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Full text of "Forgotten Southerner : middle-class associationalism in antebellum Norfolk, Virginia"

THE FORGOTTEN SOUTHERNER: MIDDLE-CLASS 
ASSOCIATIONALISM IN ANTEBELLUM NORFOLK, VIRGINIA 



By 
JOHN GORDON DEAL 



A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL 

OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT 

OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF 

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY 



UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 
2003 









ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 



The author wishes to thank Bertram Wyatt-Brown, whose support and guidance 
made the completion of this work possible. Jeffrey S. Adler provided critiques of earlier 
versions that contributed greatly to the enhancement of this research. The remaining 
members of this dissertation committee — W. Fitzhugh Brundage, R. Hunt Davis, and 
John H. Moore — provided much advice and assistance. A note of special thanks goes to 
Fitzhugh Brundage, who remained on this committee even though he had taken a new 
faculty position at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 

Conducting research is a solitary endeavor but one that requires the help of many 
persons at libraries, museums, and archives. The author thanks the staff members of the 
following institutions for their invaluable assistance: the Library of Virginia, the Sergeant 
Memorial Room of the Norfolk Public Library, the Virginia Historical Society, the Baker 
Library at Harvard University, the Boatwright Library at the University of Richmond, 
and the Masonic library of the Grand Lodge of Virginia headquarters in Richmond. 

The author thanks his friends and family, especially his parents, for their 
encouragement and support throughout this process. 



n 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

page 
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii 

LIST OF TABLES iv 

ABSTRACT v 

CHAPTER 

1 INTRODUCTION 1 

2 NORFOLK: THE SUNRISE CITY BY THE SEA 24 

3 BENEVOLENT SOCIETIES IN ANTEBELLUM NORFOLK 61 

4 IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATIONS IN ANTEBELLUM NORFOLK 87 

5 FRATERNAL ASSOCIATIONS IN ANTEBELLUM NORFOLK 127 

6 CHARACTERISTICS OF ASSOCIATION MEMBERS 166 

7 CONCLUSION 200 

REFERENCE LIST 215 

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 226 



in 



LIST OF TABLES 

Table Eage 

1 Norfolk Population Statistics 58 

2 Manufactured Products Values (1860) for Southern Cities Over 10,000 59 

3 Southern Population Statistics for 1860 60 

4 Number of Associations Joined by Sample (1845-1854) 191 

5 Years of Association Membership (1845-1 854) 192 

6 Age Cohorts of Sample 193 

7 Nativity of Sample 194 

8 Number of Children of Sample Members 195 

9 Property Holding Wealth of Sample Members 196 

10 Slaveholding by Sample Members 197 

1 1 Occupational Categories of Sample 198 

12 High/low White Collar and Blue Collar Categories 199 



IV 



Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School 

of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the 

Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 

THE FORGOTTEN SOUTHERNER: MIDDLE-CLASS 
ASSOCIATIONALISM IN ANTEBELLUM NORFOLK, VIRGINIA 

By 

John Gordon Deal 

December 2003 

Chair: Bertram Wyatt-Brown 
Major Department: History 

The middle class of the antebellum South has been largely neglected in the 

scholarly literature. Historians have argued that a middle class only existed in the 

antebellum period in large, urban environments such as those in the North with 

manufacturing and diverse populations. A middle class does not emerge in the South, it 

has been theorized, until the postwar New South era when merchants, businessmen, and 

professionals wrested political, economic, and social power away from the planter elites. 

This study demonstrates that a middle class comprised of merchants, proprietors, 

businessmen, and professionals existed in the antebellum South by examining 

associationalism in the decades leading to the Civil War in the southern port city of 

Norfolk, Virginia. 



A key element in the process of class formation and identity, the middle class in 
benevolent, improvement, and fraternal associations cultivated and instilled shared values 
of industry, thrift, sobriety, and piety, promoted these beliefs in others throughout the 
community, socialized prospective members, engendered a sense of community in a 
changing world, and made connections with others of similar beliefs and behaviors 
around the country. An examination of a sample of 400 male association members from 
1845 to 1854 illustrates that organizational rosters chiefly were composed of a native, 
married, middle-aged (in their thirties and forties) middle class of merchants, proprietors, 
and professionals with families, who owned slaves, and who possessed modest — but not 
extreme — wealth. Many joined more than one association, and multiple office-holding 
was prevalent. Organization leaders also used these institutions to prepare them for 
leadership roles in local public offices. 

This research demonstrates that a middle class emerged in the antebellum South 
despite its small cities, homogeneous population, commercial economic foundation, and 
the presence of slavery. Although a nineteenth-century southern middle class would 
reach its apex during the New South years, their origins are seen in the antebellum 
period. The findings of this investigation ultimately suggest that while the North and 
South had their differences, perhaps they shared more culturally than has previously been 
theorized. 



VI 






CHAPTER 1 
INTRODUCTION 



When examining the nineteenth-century antebellum South historians most often 
paint a picture of a society divided into sharp dichotomies. The region was not only 
bisected along racial lines, but also separated in terms of class whereby the white 
community included only the wealthy planter elites and a mass of poverty-stricken 
whites. 1 There is little mention by scholars examining the South of a "middle class" of 
urban merchants, professionals, and skilled artisans in the years leading up to the Civil 
War. If the concept of a southern middle class is discussed by historians at all it is in the 
context of a post-Civil War New South era when they seized political, economic, and 
social hegemony from the planter elites. 

For their part, scholars who specialize in examining the emergence, behaviors, 
and belief systems of a nineteenth-century middle class neglect the South as well, 
preferring instead to focus on the northeastern cities of New York, Boston, and 
Philadelphia, and increasingly the Midwest and West. These cities possessed the rapid 
urbanization, industrialization, and dramatic increases in population, especially as a result 



1 See for example David R. Goldfield, Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, Southern City and 
Region, 1607-1980 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982); Lawrence H. 
Larsen, The Rise of the Urban South (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 
1 985), and Larsen, The Urban South: A History (Lexington: The University Press of 
Kentucky, 1990). 



of foreign immigration, viewed by historians as being crucial to the development of a 
middle class. 

This scholarly neglect has created a need to explore the presence of a southern 
middle class that emerged during the antebellum years and subsequently continued into 
the postwar New South period. A middle class did exist in the South despite the lack of 
large and diverse urban environments, the presence of a predominantly commercial rather 
than industrial economic base, and the existence of slavery, a cultural and economic 
system antithetical to the reform minded, free-market North. The antebellum middle class 
of the South — defined here as a middle socio-economic layer of merchant/proprietors, 
professionals, and skilled artisans — shared an economic niche situated between the 
aristocratic planter elites and poor whites. Beyond their economic status, they believed in 
thrift, industry, sobriety, and piety, shared similar consumer habits, and participated in a 
culture of associationalism that provided a means for them to rationalize their 
environment, promote their values, socialize prospective members, engender a sense of 
community in a changing world, and connect them with like-minded persons in other 
areas of the country. The present study will focus on the middle class of the antebellum 
South — the "forgotten southerners" — by examining associationalism in the commercial 
port city of Norfolk, Virginia, from 1840 to the eve of the Civil War. 






Defining the existence of a middle class, and determining when it emerged, has 
been a part of the historical scholarship for decades. Consensus historians such as Louis 
Hartz argued that the United States was a classless society, insisting that the entire 



country comprised a middle class without an aristocracy or destitute laboring class. In 
contrast, historians coming out of the New Social History of the 1960s argued that 
economic differences existed in the society that manifested themselves not only in terms 
of wealth, but also socially and politically, thus creating different classes. This was 
especially true within the Marxist framework in which the two classes of elite owners and 
laboring working class existed in conflict with one another along a divide relative to the 
means of production. According to Marxist theory a middle class could not exist as a 
distinct permanent class, but only as a temporary condition moving toward one of the two 
poles. 

Extending a conception of class beyond economic parameters, Anthony Giddens 
developed his model of structuration that allows for multiple class levels in a given 
society to be structured along indices of means of production, authority, and patterns of 
consumption. By extension members of a class not only are connected to each other (and 
related to others) in economic terms, but also through beliefs, experiences, and patterns of 






2 Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political 
Thought Since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1955), 50-64. 
See also C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1956), 3-12, 63-76. 

3 See Dale L. Johnson, "Class Relations and the Middle Classes," in Class and Social 
Development: A New Theory of the Middle Class, ed. Dale L. Johnson (Beverly Hills, 
California: Sage Publications, 1982), 87-107. 



relations. 4 Giddens's theoretical work allows not only for the existence of multiple 
classes but, perhaps more importantly for our purposes, expands the potentialities for 
uniting these classes beyond simply economic relations into the more subtle realm of 
social relations and value systems. 

According to prevailing theoretical models, a middle class of merchants, 
proprietors, manufacturers, white-collar businessmen, and professional emerged during 
the antebellum period because of a confluence of rapid industrialization and urbanization 
in northeastern cities like New York and Philadelphia that separated those who had 
manual occupations from those who worked in non-manual positions. Broad patterns of 
migration from the countryside and foreign immigration intensified this dichotomy of 
occupation. This manifested itself into a growing economic divergence in the workforce 
as salaried managers increasingly withdrew from production to supervise the work of 
wage earners or to distribute the goods made by others. Corresponding to this 
development was a physical separation in manual and non-manual work environments 
arising from the specialization of duties. Moreover, the common work experiences and 
the personal connections that could have mediated economic and perceived social 
differences were being severed. Increasingly these merchants, professionals, clerks, and 



4 Anthony Giddens, The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies (New York: Harper 
and Row, 1975), 100-12, 177-97. For similar discussion see Stuart M. Blumin, The 
Emergence of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City, 1 760-1900 
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 8-11; and Sven Beckert, The Monied 
Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850- 
1896 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 347, n. 68. 



small business proprietors did not fit into either the nascent working or traditional elite 
classes. 

Occupying an economic niche between the patrician aristocracy and the laboring 
poor and believing in certain values, the members of the middle class sought to define 
themselves apart from those above and below. They spurned the idle rich who embodied 
extravagance, dissipation, and a belief in deference to their authority as well as the poor 
who were viewed as intemperate, idle, and self-indulgent. The middle class created 
distinguishable social networks in which their families lived in the same neighborhoods, 
went to the same churches, sent their children to the same schools, and shared similar 
patterns of consumption (e.g., home furnishings, clothes, entertainment). By adhering to 
certain ideals and values, the middle class could maintain they were separating 
themselves from those above and especially below because of morality and (proper) 
behaviors rather than economic status. This allowed them to deny the existence of a 
formal economic class system, although many of those denied admission happened to be 
from the ranks of the poor and nouveau riche. 

Scholars such as Stuart Blumin try to distinguish between a new upper class of 
businessmen and the emerging middling class as the latter group could not be lumped in 
with the laboring poor or the mercantile elite because they traveled in contrasting social 



5 See Blumin, Emergence of the Middle Class, 13, 68-71, 83-91, 107-21, 249, 295. 
Similar themes relating to the nature of changes in the workplace are included in Paul E. 
Johnson, A Shopkeeper 's Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York: 
1813-1837 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978) and John S. Gilkeson, Jr., Middle-Class 
Providence, 1820-1940 (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986), 23-32. 

6 Blumin, Emergence of the Middle Class, 129-63; Gilkeson, Middle-Class Providence, 
12-13, 29-32; Karen Haltunnen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of 
Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale 
University Press, 1982), 195. 



and economic orbits. He is unsuccessful in separating these two classes, however, as 
they were not divided socially and economically, but simply operated at different levels 
of the same system. Even he admits that the "economic world they [members of the 
middle class] inhabited was much closer to the elite's in function, style, and urban space" 
than to the working class. In short, these mercantile elites are simply the highest tier of 
the emerging middle class. Sharing similar occupations (though differing levels), beliefs, 
and a desire to instill their values into the society at large, both groups differentiated 
themselves from the patrician aristocracy and laboring poor. Although he contends that 
association membership was separate, the mercantile elite occupied positions of 
leadership in many organizations that included middle-class persons as rank and file 
members. He even writes that it is difficult to draw a line between the mercantile elite 
and middle class in association membership. Blumin writes that the mercantile elites 
were not the middle class, but he does admit that in "their values, their behavior, and 
perhaps too in their network of associations, they may have confused somewhat the 
otherwise clear boundary between the city's upper and middle classes." The real dividing 
line, it appears, was between the manual and non-manual occupations that united the 
groups and separated them from the rich and working class. 

Integral to the formation and development of a middle-class identity were the 
reform, benevolent, and fraternal organizations proliferating during the antebellum 
period. Voluntary associations served as mechanisms for accepting and socializing new 
middle-class members and as such defined who was a member of the middle class. They 
served as crucibles for instilling shared beliefs and cultivating a middle-class 



7 Blumin, Emergence of the Middle Class, 137, 194-6, 204-40, 255. 



consciousness. 8 Acting as a primary gateway for entry into the middle class, membership 
requirements and associational affiliation limited the numbers of working class and poor 
among their ranks. In Providence, Rhode Island, associations were "instrumental in the 
coalescence and propagation of a distinctive middle-class culture in the second third of 
the nineteenth century" and "the agencies by which middle-class Americans disseminated 
their values and defended their class interests whenever those appeared to be threatened 
by the special interests ... at the social margins." 9 In Poughkeepsie, New York, 
voluntary associations divided themselves along class lines as the city's upper-middle 
classes established societies like the Young Men's Christian Association, benevolent 
associations, and literary and special clubs devoted to such activities as debating, 
horticulture, and driving. Skilled artisans and "merchants of modest prosperity" joined 
volunteer fire and militia companies as well as establishing their own social clubs. 



8 Blumin, Emergence of the Middle Class, 192-229; Gilkeson, Middle-Class Providence, 
3-10, 353; Don Harrison Doyle, The Social Order of a Frontier Community: 
Jacksonville, Illinois, 1825-1870 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 190-3; 
Timothy R. Mahoney, Provincial Lives: Middle-class Experience in the Antebellum 
Middle West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 3-5, 62-1 13. 

Gilkeson, Jr., Middle-Class Providence, 53-83. 

10 Voluntary associations, however, did not always confine themselves to middle-class 
membership. In Poughkeepsie both the middle and working classes joined the fraternal 
orders such as the Masons and Odd Fellows. Still, specific chapter lodges within the city 
were divided by class and ethnic groups. Clive Griffen and Sally Griffen, Natives and 
Newcomers: The Ordering of Opportunity in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Poughkeepsie 
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978), 40. In Buffalo, political 
parties and temperance reform organizations included members from across class, ethnic, 
and gender lines. Mediating the differences between these disparate groups associations 
helped to create a stable social order; David A. Gerber, The Making of an American 
Pluralism: Buffalo, New York, 1825-1860 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 
102-9. 



8 

As a means of rationalizing their rapidly changing world, members of the middle 
class used voluntary associations such as temperance, benevolent, and Bible and tract 
societies to define the social and moral character of the society by instilling their values 
and behaviors, especially in the lower classes, through moral suasion, legislation, and 
institutional reform. The bourgeoisie began to shape public opinion on various issues (a 
task previously belonging to the upper-class aristocracy), mediate the social and cultural 
growth of the community, and develop institutions in the urban environment to serve 
these activities (e.g., libraries, museums, and lyceums). Associations also provided social 
order to the diverse and mobile populations of the expanding cities of the East and the 
nascent cities of the West and Midwest. For those who did not accept the emerging 
community value system, middle-class local governments expanded public institutions 
such as asylums and jails. 1 ' 



11 Doyle, Social Order of a Frontier Community, 12-14, 156-7, 190-5; Gilkeson, 
Middle-Class Providence, 9-10, 83-95; Peter R. Decker, Fortunes and Failures: White- 
Collar Mobility in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (Cambridge, Massachusetts: 
Harvard University Press, 1978), viii, 9, 24, 30-34, 61, 107-8; Mahoney, Provincial 
Lives, 3-5. Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), i, viii, 1-15, 65-68, 77-94, 108-19, 221- 
5, 236-49. David J. Rothman argues that during the Jacksonian period changes in the 
urban environment triggered a belief that the informal, local colonial mechanisms for 
maintaining "social control" were obsolete. Deviant behavior such as criminality, lunacy, 
and pauperism came to be seen not as a permanent manifestation of God's will, but rather 
as a product of the environment in that affected individuals could not adapt to the 
changing times. Institutions such as asylums, penitentiaries, orphanages, and redesigned 
almshouses emerged as solutions. To elevate the deviant, he was placed in spartan, 
functional building separated from family and the corruption of the community. These 
institutions shared many similarities in physical structure and program design, stressing a 
rehabilitation program consisting of a strict daily routine, rigid rules and regulations, 
respect for authority, and steady discipline that would transform inmates' character. 
Rothman explains that these institutions not only existed to reform the "inmates," but to 
serve as a model to for a well-ordered republican society; The Discovery of the Asylum: 
Social Order in the New Republic, rev. ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1990), 
3-14, 30-35, 56-84, 103-8, 133-42, 180-4, 206-24. 



Associations also rendered a mechanism for the class of merchants, professionals, 
and skilled artisans to become municipal officials and community leaders. Acting as 
leaders in associations they learned organizational principles, public speaking, 
parliamentary procedures, and conflict resolution methods. Reflecting their commitment 
to the community, and their own concomitant prosperity, the members of the middle class 
dominated the ranks of urban boosters. They pushed for internal improvements and 
expanded public services, and often led the way in elevating the poor, which helped 
laborers to become better persons, better workers, and better citizens. Boosterism from 
middle-class leaders not only spurred development of the town, but also mediated 
internal conflict by creating a sense of community among the divergent populations as 
they came to believe their city was an important place. 

For the northern middle class, these associations provided a way for them to 
rationalize their own existence in the rapidly changing urban environment and achieve a 
sense of identity and place in the antebellum city. Associationalism engendered a 
nurturing atmosphere in the increasingly forbidding public sphere in which to make 
friends, become part of a community of like-minded individuals within the anonymous 
city, and to participate in socially meaningful work. The positive environment of 
organizations such as the Young Men's Christian Association was especially beneficial, it 
was believed, to the thousands of young men migrating to the city who might be tempted 



12 See Doyle, Social Order of a Frontier Community, 64, 190-2, 225-6, 269; Mahoney, 
Provincial Lives, 83-87. 



10 

with the drinking, gambling, and prostitution of the streets. 13 Indeed, organizations such 
as the fire and militia companies existed not only to protect persons and property, but also 
to serve a social purpose in providing comradeship, peer approval, and even an 
environment for cultivating business contacts and perhaps even matrimonial connections. 
Being in an association reflected a strength of character that would further help a person 
climb the socio-economic ladder. Also, organizations such as the Freemasons and Odd 
Fellows and temperance, Bible, and tract societies were affiliated with larger state and 
national organizations that provided one with a connection beyond the town's borders. 
Even for those who were not members, these national associations, like boosterism, 



The concerns about the young men of the city were elevated because of the 
increasingly crowded urban environment that eliminated the traditional face-to-face 
community. The result was that the middle class suffered a restlessness that came with 
no fixed identity in the social system. Their insecurity was symbolized in the archetypal 
confidence men and painted women who aspired to a higher social status, but who only 
simulated appropriate behaviors rather than truly adopt middle-class values and ideology. 
In seeking to define themselves and determine how to interact with others in the 
treacherous city, an ideology of perfectly sincere behavior was delineated during the 
1830s through etiquette manuals, advice books, and fashion magazines published in 
northeastern cities. These periodicals outlined a wide range of proper behaviors and 
specific rules for genteel conduct and espoused the importance of a sincere display of 
feeling that countered the hypocrisy of the confidence men and painted women. Karen 
Haltunnen, Confidence Men and Painted Women, xiv-xvii, 192-7. Similarly John F. 
Kasson argues that during this time a Horatio Alger spirit inspired the publication of 
materials to aid individuals in improving their lives materially and socially. A host of 
magazines and etiquette manuals standardized and dispensed advice on grooming 
practices, behavior, and fashionable consumer goods. Aimed at a predominantly middle- 
class audience periodicals distilled methods for interacting with others in the society, for 
managing the urban environment, and for behaving in a more cosmopolitan, rather than 
provincial, manner. Similar to Haltunnen, these rules of proper behavior provided a 
sense of identity in an urban environment that was increasingly anonymous and 
delineated the social hierarchy; Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth- 
Century Urban America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1990), 5-7, 37-55, 68-71, 100-104 
115,166-182. 



11 

instilled a sense of community identity and a sense that their city was an important 
place. 14 

For a time during the antebellum era northern associationalism was the "cradle" 
of the middle class, as Mary P. Ryan characterizes it. As the Erie Canal transformed 
Utica, New York, from a village to a small industrial city by mid-century, industrial 
capitalism divided the society into public and private spheres along gender roles whereby 
husbands ventured into the public sphere to earn a living, while their wives remained in 
the home to raise the family and teach values to their children. The reforming impulses 
arising from the Second Great Awakening pushed the middle class to form voluntary 
associations during the 1830s and 1840s, providing a gathering place in the expanding 
public domain. Ryan argues that associationalism was the first mechanism incorporated 
by the middling sorts to rationalize the changes occurring around them in the urban 
environment. Beyond simply being a unifying force for the nascent middle class, 
associationalism provided the very fabric of middle-class culture as it inculcated a new 
set of values including sobriety, sexual restraint, and industry that would enable the 
children to move into the ranks of shopkeepers and white-collar occupations. As the 
community became more complex, however, many came to believe that associations 
were not enough to overcome the detrimental effects of the burgeoning society. They 
retreated back to the safety of the home to instill and propagate the values developed in 
association. As Ryan explains, "the association itself helped to usher the ultimate 



Decker, Fortunes and Failures, 107-12; Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 61- 
64; Stuart M. Blumin, The Urban Threshold: Growth and Change in a Nineteenth- 
Century American Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 45^6; 
Mahoney, Provincial Lives, 62-1 12; Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 108-19. 



12 

triumph of the privatized home," as the domestic sphere would emerge as the ultimate 
caretaker of these new middle-class values. 

Voluntary associationalism played a crucial role in the development of an urban 
public sphere as members were the dominant organizers and participants in public events 
such as festivals, parades, anniversary celebrations, and a host of fairs. Public 
celebrations such as parades, groundbreaking ceremonies, festivals, and funeral 
processions for nationally-known politicians engendered a larger civic consciousness and 
cohesion amongst the townspeople as they shared a common experience. This meant, 
however, that taking part in this public consciousness often was confined to the mostly 
white male association members rather than women, African Americans, and the working 
class. Restrictions notwithstanding, participation in the public associations helped bind a 
complex community comprised of competing groups into a larger public domain. This 
public identity connected disparate groups in the community and served as a foundation 
for future civic, economic, and political undertakings. 16 



Mary P. Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 
1790-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), xi-xii, 5, 14-15, 231^0. 
See also Timothy R. Mahoney's study of the antebellum Middle West in which he 
stresses the role of the private sphere in middle-class formation. Only in marriage could 
the gentleman and genteel woman truly enter the middle class because it was only as a 
couple that they possessed the proper values and behaviors required for gentility. 
Marriage between different middle class genteel families propagated and solidified their 
class and marriage into a genteel family was a means for an upwardly mobile young man 
to enter the middle-class social order. Mahoney also delineates separate gender roles 
whereby the domestic hearth and family provided the gentleman husband the dominant 
reason to work and a refuge away from the dangerous, immoral public sphere he 
encountered each day. As the holder of the piety and virtue, the genteel woman was 
responsible for instilling proper values in her husband and children; Mahoney, Provincial 
Lives, 114-5, 120-9, 134-9, 155, 245-7. 

Political associations and clubs also enabled more citizens who might be denied the 
right to vote for reasons of birthplace, property restrictions, race, or gender to exercise 
what Ryan termed their political citizenship in public spaces via political parades, rallies, 



13 

As can be seen, the scholarship relating to middle-class formation and 
corresponding associationalism has been confined to cities in the Northeast, Midwest, 
and West. Consequently, this research on a professional and business class does not 
include southern cities. Representative of this perspective is Sven Beckert's examination 
of the New York bourgeoisie during the nineteenth century — defined as elite merchants 
and manufacturers — where he implicitly argues that the South could not have developed 
an elite merchant class. The bourgeoisie merchants and businessmen of the antebellum 
period espoused beliefs in republicanism, progress, and, most of all. a social and 
economic mobility based upon a free-labor meritocracy. They also shared many 
characteristics including consumption patterns, common neighborhoods, and voluntary 
associations that bound them together. For Beckett these characteristics, beliefs, and 
behaviors were antithetical to the slaveholding, aristocratic, static (if not backward), 
plantation South. 17 



and ward meetings; Mary P. Ryan, Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the 
American City During the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1997), 15-22, 60, 95-96, 129. In his examination of Kingston's transformation from 
rural to urban environment Stuart Blumin also illustrates how associations play an 
integral role in the public life of the city through their organization and participation in 
public events. He points out that the public calendar was highlighted by musical concerts 
as well as intellectual entertainment and enrichment with lectures and debates at the 
lyceum and literary associations. Blumin, The Urban Threshold, 31-33, 45, 146, 150— 
65, 188-9. 

During the antebellum period, Beckert's bourgeoisie resembles the upper end of the 
middle-class spectrum of mostly merchants, businessmen, professionals and 
industrialists. In post-Civil War era, the elimination of slavery as a basis of southern 
economic and political power accelerated a process whereby these groups, especially 
industrialists, whose wealth enabled them to become the elite upper class of society 
possessing economic, social, and political hegemony; Sven Beckert, The Monied 
Metropolis, 2-7, 21-47, 56-75, 90-91, 158-9. 



14 

Scholars examining the middle class have ignored the South because the region 
possessed fewer and smaller cities, the population was not as diverse, industry was 
minimal, and the presence of slavery embodied a belief system contrary to reform — all 
necessary characteristics in sustaining a viable middle class. These issues have received 
only partial attention from historians focusing on southern history who either have argued 
that a middle class did not emerge until after the Civil War, or have ignored the idea of a 
middle class in the region altogether. Laying the foundation for the former position was 
C. Vann Woodward's view of discontinuity whereby a profound change in the South 
occurred following the Civil War in outlook, institutions, and leadership. During the 
postwar year the elite landholders relinquished their power and control to an emerging 
middle class of merchants and manufacturers. 1 

Taking a cue from Woodward, Lawrence H. Larsen argues that during the New 
South period those who lived in cities were developing a sense of being urban as opposed 
to their counterparts who remained in the country. The former articulated a sense of 
community as they shopped together at the same stores, read the same newspapers, and 
shared cultural interests such as taverns, restaurants, theatres, music, and sporting events. 
These were the beginnings of a small middle class that shared similar values and gave 
rise to a distinctive urban culture. 19 

Expanding upon this theme in great detail, Don H. Doyle contends that in cities 
such as Atlanta and Nashville there was a change from an Old South of planter- 



1 ft 

C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana 
State University Press, 1951), 107^13. 



19 



Larsen, The Urban South: A History, 78-79. 



15 

dominated market towns with no designs on cultivating growth to a postwar New South 
in which mercantile boosterism and expanded commercialism developed as the hallmarks 
of an aggressive plan for city building. Echoing Woodward, central to this New South 
was the rise of "new men" comprised of a mercantile elite who claimed positions of 
leadership from the planter class. Rising to their positions in society by virtue of their 
accomplishments in business, they could be contrasted with what Doyle terms an 
"overlapping upper class" of old money whose status was derived from who they were 
and to which family they belonged. 

Similar to that described by middle-class scholars previously discussed, the 
business elite lived in the same suburban neighborhoods, sent their children to the same 
schools, and joined the same charitable associations, social clubs, and churches. 
Voluntary associations functioned as socializing agents and screening mechanisms for 
those wishing to be recognized in the business elite. In addition to their social roles, 
these "new men" were leaders in local government and business, occupying positions in 
municipal government, heading local business organizations, and sitting on each other's 
corporate boards. As civic boosters, their goals were to expand the cities' commercial, 
industrial, and urban sectors. It would be these new men who would create a new world 
in the postwar South, separate and apart from its antebellum roots. Doyle's postwar new 
men strongly resemble the northern middle class as this business elite comprised the 
upper end of an emerging middle class. 21 



20 Doyle, New Men, New Cities, New South, 1860-1910 (Chapel Hill: University of North 
Carolina Press, 1990), xiv, 189-225. 

21 ibid. 



16 

An urban middle class also existed in other cities in the postwar New South. 
Middle-ranking businessmen and professionals controlled political power in 
Birmingham, Alabama during the city's first half-century from 1871 to 1921. Espousing 
booster rhetoric, an upper-middle-class elite was responsible for developing cotton mills 
and market towns in upcountry South Carolina. Some in the Piedmont mill towns 
advocated reform efforts including temperance, health services, compulsory education, 
and child-labor actions. The New South middle class, rather than planter elites or former 
Confederate leaders, also was responsible for cultivating the ideology of the Lost Cause 
as they organized various associations such as the United Confederate Veterans. African- 
American merchants and professionals in the postwar decades also developed a middle 
class in their own communities such as Richmond's Jackson Ward. They became the 
community leaders and, similar to their white counterparts, were connected by friendship, 
marriage, business, and kinship. Further mirroring white middle-class perceptions of the 
working-class poor, there was conflict between middle-class and poorer blacks along 
issues of morals, temperance, industriousness, and education. 22 



Carl V. Harris, Political Power in Birmingham, 1871-1921 (Knoxville: The University 
of Tennessee Press, 1977), 59-63, 88-90, 124-5, 148-73, 186-270; David Carlton, 
"Builders of a New State — The Town Classes and Early Industrialization of South 
Carolina, 1880-1907," in From the Old South to the New: Essays on the Transitional 
South, ed. Walter J. Fraser, Jr. and Winfred B. Moore, Jr. (Westport, Connecticut: 
Greenwood Press, 1981), 43-57; David R. Goldfield, "Urbanization in a Rural Culture: 
Suburban Cities and County Cosmopolites," in The South for New Southerners, ed. Paul 
D. Escort and David R. Goldfield (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 
1991), 79-80; Gaines, M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and 
the Emergence of the New South, 1865-1913 (New York: Oxford University Press, 
1987), 7, 80, 93, 107-8, 1 14; Howard N. Rabinowitz, Race Relations in the Urban South, 
1865-1890 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 99-1 16, 238-49. 



17 

While a middle class clearly has been delineated in the New South, there has been 
little direct examination of these forgotten southerners during the antebellum period. 
Several scholars have described individuals much like the so-called "new men" of the 
postwar years in southern cities during the Old South years. They have not, however, 
defined them specifically as members of the middle class. In antebellum Atlanta, Mobile, 
Houston, and Galveston urban leaders came from the commercial ranks, rather than 
planters, who shared the same neighborhoods, joined similar benevolent associations and 
temperance societies, and enjoyed common leisure activities. Acting as socializing 
agents, these institutions exerted much influence over the course of events in these cities, 
providing the means not only for making business contacts, but the avenue by which 
prospective members could gain acceptance in the mercantile elite community. The 
importance of family name and background diminished as individuals could achieve 
positions of local leadership by accumulation of wealth, service on the boards of business 
and in government, and membership in voluntary organizations. 23 

While the antebellum mercantile leadership in these cities shared many 
similarities, perhaps the most important was their preoccupation with the individual 
pursuit of wealth. They worked in white-collar occupations, arriving with some start-up 
capital and experience, looking to make their fortune. Moreover, they devoted their time 
to developing the city itself because of a shared belief that urban development and 



Harriet E. Amos, Cotton City: Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile (University 
of Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1985), 58-68; James M. Russell, Atlanta, 
1847-1890: City Building in the Old South and the New (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State 
University Press, 1988), 70-87, 106; Kenneth W. Wheeler, To Wear a City's Crown: The 
Beginnings of Urban Growth in Texas, 1836-1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard 
University Press, 1968), 23-34, 57-66, 105-14, 126-33. 



18 

prosperity could only enhance their personal wealth. Like those in the New South they 
served in positions of political, economic, and social leadership and acted as the city's 
boosters, continually attempting to engineer commercial and urban growth by expanding 
direct trade routes, encouraging the development of industry, and obtaining capital for 
railroads, wharves, and warehouses. In addition to these physical improvements, they 
developed many aids to commerce such as forming chambers of commerce and 
merchants' exchanges; developing business directories; and building amenities like 
saloons, theaters, and hotels. While these ventures had little success in expanding these 
southern cities and making them competitive with those of the North, they do underscore 
the industrious nature of this mercantile class of civic leaders similar to those living in the 
Northeast and Midwest. 24 

Although exhibiting middle-class characteristics, these mercantile elites of 
Mobile, Houston, and Galveston are not described in these terms in their respective 
community studies. Conversely, James M. Russell does incorporate the term middle 
class in describing the mercantile civic boosters in Atlanta, although he does this in a 
contradictory manner. At one point he contends that the antebellum period possessed a 
"vigorous upper-middle-class leadership." Later, however, he suggests a dual class 
system of workers and owners when he argues that the Civil War caused tremendous 
inflation which widened the economic and social disparity between the two groups. To 
complicate matters further he writes, in a manner reminiscent of Woodward, that an 



24 Amos, Cotton City, 26-45, 70-75; Russell, Atlanta, 1847-1890, 49-58; Wheeler, To 
Wear a City's Crown, 2-24, 38, 69-70, 91-102; Harold L. Piatt, City Building in the New 
South: The Growth of Public Service in Houston, Texas, 1830-1910 (Philadelphia: 
Temple University Press, 1983), 9-17, 76-77. 



19 

important social change following the Civil War was the development of an urban middle 
class that would take positions of economic and political importance in the city. While 
he never does define what the middle class comprised, it appears to be the mercantile 
elite who "showed little interest in the culture of the plantation South" and thus was 
present in the Old and New South. 

Even more puzzling is the shift in perspective by southern urban historian David 
R. Goldfield. In his Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, Virginia 1847-1861 he 
identifies an antebellum mercantile elite that economically and politically dominated 
cities like Richmond, Norfolk, and Wheeling and who shared similar lifestyles, beliefs, 
and goals, especially that of accumulating wealth through boosterism and internal 
improvements. These men could be termed the upper end of a middle-class like that in 
the North and the postwar South. Goldfield, however, soon would advocate the position 
that there was no middle class in the South. In Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, Southern 
City and Region, he emphasizes the continuity of southern urban development whereby 
the South of the postwar era remained the same planter-dominated, lifeless, and 
unimportant region that existed in the antebellum period. As he stresses the static nature 
of the region's urban life throughout the course of the nineteenth century, Goldfield 
ignores the businessmen, proprietors, and professionals in southern cities. 6 

Middle-class associations dedicated to benevolent and temperance reform existed 
in the antebellum South despite their connection to radical northern abolitionism that was 



25 Russell, Atlanta, 1847-1890, 89, 106, 263. 

26 See David R. Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, Virginia 1847-1861 
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977), 29-36; Goldfield, Cotton Fields 
and Skyscrapers, 3-8, 29-132. 



20 

perceived to weaken reform in the region. While southerners were not going to 
embrace abolitionist reform as a group, the existence of abolition in the North did not 
taint the reformist impulse for southerners regarding non-slaveholding issues. As we 
have seen from several communities studies previously examined evangelical reform 
movements with Bible and tract societies and Sabbath schools, as well as temperance 
organizations, were present in the Old South. Addressing this issue directly in a recent 
comparative analysis John W. Quist finds that in antebellum Tuscaloosa County, 
Alabama temperance and evangelical benevolence reform societies existed on a level 
similar to that in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Accentuating the non-effects of the 
peculiar institution on reform activities, most of the leaders, directors, contributors, and 
volunteers to such endeavors were slaveholders. Membership rolls in both areas revealed 
a parallel of sorts in that Washtenaw's temperance proponents were dominated by 
abolitionists in comparison to their overall presence in the community, just as 
slaveholders dominated the ranks of temperance organizations in Tuscaloosa. 28 

Some historians have indeed described a middle class presence in the antebellum 
South. In St. Louis Jeffrey S. Adler explains that the lure of large profits brought many 
upper- and middle-class men from northeastern cities like New York and Boston. In an 



Those arguing for a weak antebellum reform in the South include John W. Kuykendall, 
Southern Enterprize: The Work of National Evangelical Societies in the Antebellum 
South (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1982), and Carl F. Kaestle, Pillars of the 
Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780-1860 (New York: Hill and 
Wang, 1983), 192-217. 

Quist concludes that the intensity to which benevolent associations acted was related 
more to economic fluctuations than the existence of slavery or perceptions of these 
endeavors as subversive northern institutions; John W. Quist, Restless Visionaries: The 
Social Roots of Antebellum Reform in Alabama and Michigan (Baton Rouge: Louisiana 
State University Press, 1998), 1-21, 38-39, 100-1, 195-6, 210, 234, 302. 



21 

effort to cultivate a society like that back east conforming to their middle-class values, 
these merchants established voluntary associations and reform movements relating to 
temperance, literacy, antislavery, and the establishment of Sunday schools. Gregg D. 
Kimball includes brief mentions of a middle class of professionals, merchants, and 
businessmen who joined fraternal, benevolent, political, militia, and temperance 
associations in antebellum Richmond. 30 

Camilla Townsend describes an elite merchant class — a "rising upper 
bourgeoisie" — who emerged in Baltimore in the decades prior to the Civil War and 
demonstrated their wealth and status by directing benevolent societies, organizing civic 
improvement projects, hosting balls, possessing fine houses, and in the excellent 
treatment of their slaves and servants. A "middling rank" of artisans, lower level 
entrepreneurs, and professionals (attorneys, physicians, teachers) also existed in 
Baltimore. They participated in the antebellum public life of the city in associations such 
as the militia and fire companies. 31 



In addition to not originally being from St. Louis, these middle-class entrepreneurs 
would not remain in the city permanently as antebellum sectionalism sent these Yankees 
to the another "can't miss" opportunity for adventure and prosperity: Chicago; Jeffrey S. 
Adler, Yankee Merchants and the Making of the Urban West: The Rise and Fall of 
Antebellum St. Louis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 102-7, 141^4, 
173-4. 

Like their counterparts in the North, these organizations provided fraternal association, 
social camaraderie, and opportunities to make business contacts as well as participating 
in the civic life of the city through parades, banquets, and dinners; Gregg D. Kimball, 
American City, Southern Place: A Cultural History of Antebellum Richmond (Athens: 
University of Georgia Press, 2000), 37-38, 46-48, 55-57, 185-92, 196-7, 256. 

At home the mercantile elites were industrious and efficient, continually looking for 
ways in their budgets to economize and still maintain and publicly demonstrate their 
status; Camilla Townsend, Tales of Two Cities: Race and Economic Culture in Early 
Republican North and South America: Guayaquil, Equador, and Baltimore, Maryland 
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 101-13, 121-2, 158-9, 163-72. 



22 






Scholars have demonstrated the emergence of a middle class during the 
antebellum period whose members were similar in terms of wealth and occupations, who 
shared similar values, who possessed similar goals for themselves and their cities, and 
who rationalized their rapidly changing environments by establishing associations. 
Studies of a middle class have been confined to northeastern, midwestern, and western 
cities, however, because the South did not possess substantial urban expansion, 
industrialization, and immigration — three foundational elements perceived as necessary 
for middle-class development. Historians who study the South also have neglected to 
examine an antebellum middle class, focusing instead on the aristocratic planters and 
poor whites. When a southern middle class is discussed usually it is in a context of their 
emergence in the postwar New South era. 

What many southern urban scholars refer to as a "mercantile elite" in the 
antebellum era actually represents the upper tier of a middle class that possessed similar 
characteristics, beliefs, and associational behaviors to that which existed in the pre-Civil 
War Northeast, and to their later New South brethren. Beyond the inclusion of these 
business elites as an upper-middle class there is little discussion in the southern urban 
literature of the low- to mid-level middling shopkeepers, small-business proprietors, and 
lesser white-collar employees (e.g. clerks) who were not as wealthy as the mercantile 
elite, but were not members of the working class. They rounded out middle-class 
membership in the antebellum South as they occupied non-manual positions and shared 
the same beliefs. Beyond occupying an economic niche below the upper-middle class 



23 

mercantile elite, they also served as the rank and file members of voluntary organizations 
and supported mercantile elite boosterism efforts at engineering urban growth. 

The present study seeks to examine the presence of a middle class in the 
antebellum South by focusing on associationalism in the port city of Norfolk, Virginia, 
from 1840 to 1860. By studying this most crucial — and public — characteristic of the 
middle class, we will see residents in this mid-size southern commercial port city form 
benevolent, fraternal, service, and improvement associations that engendered a shared 
identity and community, socialized newcomers, and promoted their emerging boosterism 
ethos. Through an examination of associationalism we can also delineate the methods by 
which they inculcated these values not only amongst themselves, but to the larger society. 

The present study will demonstrate that the country's associational culture as 
described by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America was indeed a characteristic 
of the whole nation and not just the purview of the Northeast. 32 Additionally, while a 
southern middle class may have reached its zenith during the postwar New South period, 
this examination will delineate its presence in the Old South. By establishing a middle 
class in the antebellum period, it can then be argued that perhaps the New South was not 
so new after all. Moreover, if the antebellum South could sustain a viable middle class 
with similar characteristics to those in the northeastern cities, then perhaps the two 
regions had more in common that has been previously suggested, despite the South's 
smaller cities, a want of substantial industry, and the presence of slavery. 



32 



Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. by J. P. Mayer (New York- Harper 
Perennial, 1968), 513-7. 



CHAPTER 2 
NORFOLK: THE SUNRISE CITY BY THE SEA 



Taken from an early twentieth-century boosterism pamphlet, this characterization 
of Norfolk reflects the irrepressible optimism of the city's residents. With a combination 
of advantageous geography, mild climate, bountiful hinterland, and wide harbor, 
Norfolkians have believed throughout the city's history that they would achieve 
prominence among the nation's urban centers. The Tidewater port did enjoy economic 
success during the colonial and early republic years, but fell on hard times following the 
War of 1812 with business remaining stagnant through the Mexican War. Norfolk's 
residents worked feverishly during the antebellum period to reclaim their early glory but 
a deadly epidemic, the Civil War, and the economic, social, and political difficulties of 
the postwar years crippled their advancement. 

Norfolk's tribulations, early promise and persistent efforts to restore colonial 
success, and the social and cultural foundation of slavery resembled other port cities in 
the American South such as Charleston, Mobile, and Savannah. Like its Deep South 
sisters, Norfolk was caught in a web of slavery, economic stagnation, and commercial 
dependence on the North. The desire to prosper at a time of rising sectionalism spurred 
southerners to seek remedies through expansion of public projects, direct trade schemes, 
and attempts at diversified manufacturing. Beyond the immediate benefits of these 



Virginia Industrial Commission, Norfolk, Virginia: The Sunrise City By the Sea 
(Norfolk: Press of Burke & Gregory, 1914). 

24 



25 

programs southerners, and Virginians in particular, hoped to recapture the lost glory of 
the colonial and early national eras. These goals remained elusive for decades, however. 
Not until the twentieth century did the city begin to reclaim some level of importance in 
the country. As the United States emerged a world military power through two world 
wars, Norfolk became home to naval and air bases as well as expanding shipyards that 
enabled it to carve out a special niche in the national economy and public consciousness. 2 

Norfolk, Virginia is a flat peninsula situated on the North bank of the Elizabeth 
River, approximately 1,000 to 1,200 feet wide, with the Chesapeake Bay lying just north 
of the harbor. 3 In 1840 Norfolk had 10,920 residents, including 3,709 slaves (34 percent) 
and 1,026 free blacks (9.4 percent). By 1850 the population had increased to 14,326, but 
the rate of growth for the 4,295 slaves was slower than that for the white population thus 



2 

For a discussion of Virginia cities' efforts to expand economically during the 1840s and 
1850s in the context of North-South sectionalism, see David R. Goldfield, Urban Growth 
in the Age of Sectionalism. An expansion on this theme, but with a negative analytical 
framework and expanded to include the rest of the South can be found in Goldfield, 
Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, esp. "Urbanization without Cities," 29-79. During the 
twentieth century expanded federal military expenditures and commercial interests 
promoted development for other southern port cities, especially in the Sunbelt. See 
Goldfield, "Urbanization in a Rural Culture," 67-93; Carl Abbott, The New Urban 
America: Growth and Politics in Sunbelt Cities (Chapel Hill: University of North 
Carolina Press, 1987). 

Norfolk is eighty-one miles from Petersburg and 102 miles from Richmond, the capital 
of the state and the city's chief urban rival. Centrally located along the eastern seaboard, 
Norfolk is 178 miles from Baltimore, 270 miles from Philadelphia, 300 miles from New 
York, and to the south 350 miles from Charleston; H. W. Burton, The History of Norfolk, 
Virginia: A Review of Important Events and Incidents which occurred from 1 736 to 
1877; Also a Record of Reminiscences and Political, Commercial, and Curious Facts 
(Norfolk: Norfolk Virginian, 1877), 1; Andrew Morrison, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the 
Tidewater Country (Norfolk: George Engelhardt, 1889), 29; Thomas C. Parramore, Peter 
C. Stewart, and Tommy Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries (Charlottesville: 
University Press of Virginia, 1994), 169. 



26 

reducing their proportion of the population down to 30 percent. The population would 
remain at the same level (14,620) in 1860, yet it would have increased during the decade 
if not for a disastrous yellow fever epidemic in 1855 in which more than two thousand 
residents lost their lives. While the white population continued to increase during the 
1850s, the number and proportion of slaves declined to 3,284 (22.5 percent) as Virginians 
increasingly sold slaves to the Deep South. The number of free blacks rose from its 1850 
level of 956 to 1,046 in 1860. Slaves and free blacks labored in the shipping trade and 
served as cooks, chambermaids, waiters, stevedores, porters, and coachmen. 4 

The origins of Norfolk date back to June 1680 when the Virginia House of 
Burgesses passed "An Act for Cohabitation, Trade and Manufacture" and permitted the 
purchase of fifty acres of land in various counties to establish towns and storehouses. 
One of those named was the establishment of a town in Norfolk County on the Elizabeth 
River. In October 1705 the Burgesses formally incorporated Norfolk and by 1730 it was 
already a bustling little port enjoying a primary trade with the West Indies that provided 
steadily expanding commercial business until the American Revolution. The town 
received a Royal Charter on 15 September 1736 elevating it to a borough, replacing 



See Table 1 for Norfolk population statistics during the antebellum period. Population 
figures from United States Census Office, Compendium of the Enumeration of the 
Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States, as Obtained at the Department of State, 
From the Returns of the Sixth Census (New York: Norman Ross Publishing, 1990), 32- 
34; United States Census Office, The Seventh Census of the United States, 1850: 
Embracing a Statistical View of Each of the States and Territories (New York: Norman 
Ross Publishing, 1990), 258; United States Census Office, Population of the United 
States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (New York: 
Norman Ross Publishing, 1990), 519; Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic 
Southern Port (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1931), 139^0. For an 
examination of the Virginia practice of selling slaves to the Deep South see Goldfield, 
Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 120-2, and the Norfolk Daily Southern Argus, 
27 April 1857. 



27 

governance from the county and allowing property holders to elect a representative to the 
House of Burgesses. 3 On 13 February 1845 the General Assembly passed an act making 
Norfolk a city and two months later on 14 April 1845 the voters ratified a new charter. 
Key alterations included popular election of the mayor by qualified voters and a division 
of the municipal duties between the seventeen-member Common Council and a newly- 
established eleven-member Select Council. 6 These landmark dates became celebratory 
anniversaries for residents with grand parades, speeches, music, fireworks, militia gun 
salutes, and even "grand aquatic excursions" of boats and barges. 7 



5 William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large: Being A Collection of All the Laws of 
Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, vol. 2, (New York: 
R. & W. & G Bartow, 1823), 471-8, vol. 3 (Philadelphia: Thomas Desilver, 1823), 404- 
419; the Charter of the Borough of Norfolk reprinted in Brent Tarter, ed., The Order 
Book and Related Papers of the Common Hall of the Borough of Norfolk, Virginia, 1736- 
1798 (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1979), 6, 7, 35-41. Norfolk's 1705 
incorporation date makes it one of the first incorporated towns of any long-term 
significance in the colonies. Williamsburg was incorporated in 1699 and Richmond in 
1752; C. W. Tazewell, ed., Vignettes from the Shadows — Glimpses of Norfolk's Past 
(Norfolk: W. S. Dawson Company, 1992), 8. Tazewell incorrectly states that Norfolk 
became an incorporated town on 8 June 1680, but at this date the House of Burgesses 
simply allowed for settlement of a town in Norfolk County. See also Burton, History of 
Norfolk, 2-3, 35; and Cary W. Jones, Norfolk as a Business Centre: Its Principal 
Industries and Trades (Norfolk: Virginian Job Presses, 1880), 12-13. 

William S. Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 
Portsmouth and the Adjacent Counties, During a Period of Two Hundred Years 
(Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1853), 221-4; W. H. T. Squires, Through the Years 
in Norfolk: Historical Norfolk— 1636-1936 (Norfolk: Norfolk Advertising Board, 1936), 
42; Ella Blow Freeman Cooke, Histories Recollections and Anecdotes of Old Norfolk 
(Norfolk: Arthur B. Riddick, 1937), 12. 

In his contemporary history of Norfolk William S. Forrest describes in great detail the 
centennial celebration of the charter held in Norfolk on 15 September 1 836. See his 
Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 200-6. See also Burton, 
History of Norfolk, 8, and Squires, Through the Years in Norfolk, 39. 



28 

Politically and economically the city was little affected by England's wars with 
France in the mid-eighteenth century. Prior to the American Revolution Norfolk 
consisted of four hundred houses in 1765 and thirteen hundred dwellings worth £124,000 
a decade later. Reflecting the extent of colonial trade with the West Indies, the imports 
for Virginia in 1769, almost wholly through Norfolk, were valued at £851,000. On the 
eve of the war Norfolk was the eighth largest city in the colonies and a primary eastern 
commercial port. In February 1776, the Virginia Gazette proclaimed, "It is the most 
flourishing and richest town in the colony. Its happy site, combining all those natural 
advantages which invite and promote navigation and commerce, have been actively 
seconded by the industry and enterprise of its inhabitants. ... Its population exceeds 
6,000 citizens, many of whom possess affluent fortunes." 8 

During the Revolutionary period Norfolkians enthusiastically adopted resolutions 
protesting the Stamp Act in 1765, formed their own Sons of Liberty the following year, 
and in 1774 established a committee of public safety in response to the Intolerable Acts. 
Support for the patriots had diminished by October 1775 when Lord Dunmore, the royal 
governor of Virginia, destroyed a printing office in the city with no interference from 
residents. The next month the governor took control of the borough as thousands from 
the area pledged their oath of allegiance to governor and king. At the Battle of Great 
Bridge (eight miles south of Norfolk) on 9 December 1775 Virginia militiamen led by 
Colonel William Woodford soundly defeated a British force under Dunmore 's command 
and forced their evacuation from the borough. Seeking revenge for this defeat, on 



o 

Robert W. Lamb, ed., Our Twin Cities of the Nineteenth Century: Norfolk and 
Portsmouth, Their Past, Present, and Future (Norfolk: Barcroft, 1887), 6-8; Tarter, 
Order Book, 1 1-12; Virginia Gazette (Purdie), 9 February 1776. 



29 

1 January 1776 Dunmore commenced a bombardment of the port. Militiamen plundered 
and ran wild through the borough, setting fires to loyalist businesses and houses as they 
went. Ninety percent of the town was destroyed in a conflagration that raged for three 
days, burning 863 buildings and causing damages estimated at £300,000. The only 
structure of any significance left standing was the Old Parish Church, built in 1739. 
Eventually becoming known as Old St. Paul's Church, it stood well into the twentieth 
century complete with embedded cannon balls and pock marks, a symbol of Norfolk's 
brief but devastating frontline role in the American Revolution. 

By the turn of the century the citizens of Norfolk had rebuilt their borough to its 
prewar level. There were one thousand houses containing 6,926 residents as it 
maintained its place as the largest town in Virginia. Beginning a lengthy partnership 
with Norfolk, in 1801 the United States government established a navy yard at nearby 
Gosport on the southern part of the Elizabeth River." During the early republic years 
Norfolk continued to prosper commercially and be a primary port for trade in Virginia 
and along the eastern seaboard. By 1791 exports from Norfolk equaled about $1 million, 
increasing to $1.8 million in 1795, and more than $4 million in 1800, and ranging from 
$5 million to $7 million from 1804-1807. Beginning in 1807 trade decreased as the 
Embargo Act closed off all the American ports to foreign ships and limited trading only 
to other states. Following the War of 1812 international trade resumed and prosperity 



9 Burton, History of Norfolk, 4-5; Lamb, Our Twin Cities, 9-10; Parramore, Stewart, and 
Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 75, 86-94; Tarter, Order Book, 14. 

I ° Tarter, Or der Book, 17. 

II Lamb, Our Twin Cities, 10. 



30 

returned for several years. Navigation and non-intercourse laws of the 1820s damaged 
the borough's economic prosperity, however, as international commerce to the West 

1 9 

Indies was curtailed once again by British commercial restrictions. The Panic of 1 839 
and the failure of the United States Bank that same year further crippled Norfolk's 
economy. The Mexican War would spur commercial growth as Norfolk's shipping was 
rejuvenated, new banks established, homes built, and business activity increased. 

Despite this moderate success, in the decades between the War of 1 8 1 2 and the 
Civil War, Norfolk became increasingly dependent on northeastern cities for its economic 
livelihood as its place in the national economy diminished. In 1769 the value of imports 
coming into Virginia, predominantly through Norfolk, accounted for over $4 million 
compared with less than $945,000 for New York. By 1832 the situation had reversed 
itself as Virginia's imports decreased to just over $1 .2 million while New York's 
dramatically increased to $57 million. The amount of imports in Virginia dropped from 
33,000 tons in 1791 to only 7,000 tons in 1838, at which time New York counted 500,000 
import tons. In 1 846 New York exported $38 million worth of domestic produce 
compared to only $3.5 million for Virginia. Similarly, direct trade was almost non- 
existent for the Old Dominion as it exported only $1 ,500 in foreign produce in 1 85 1 
while New York exported $14 million. In terms of internal improvements the Empire 









12 Burton, History of Norfolk, 5; Tarter, Order Book, 17; Lamb, Our Twin Cities, 10-14; 
Andrew Morrison, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the Tidewater Country, 28. 



13 



Squires, Through the Years in Norfolk, AX-A2. 



31 

State could boast of 1,200 miles of railroads and 900 miles of canals in 1840 compared to 
Virginia, which could only muster 400 miles of railroad and 200 miles of canal. 14 

While Norfolk's commercial trade life was dependent upon northern cities like 
other southern ports, its chief commodity was not cotton, tobacco, or other staple crops, 
but a thriving vegetable or truck trade. In New York and Baltimore the Virginia port was 
referred to as the "Atlantic Garden." Peas, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, radishes, apples, 
pears, peaches, etc. were grown in the rich hinterland of the Tidewater and shipped out of 
Norfolk's harbor. In 1858 the value of the fruit and vegetable exports totaled over 
$450,000 (out of a total city export figure of $535,000), with almost 93 percent going to 
Baltimore and New York, along with Philadelphia and Richmond, to be shipped 
elsewhere. Norfolk also enjoyed a thriving grain trade during the antebellum years. The 
corn exports during the year ending in May 1 858, reportedly a very poor crop yield, were 
over two million bushels for foreign and coastwise trade and 150,000 for home 
consumption. The flour trade produced an export of 20,719 barrels for the same period. 
Other grains exported in great amounts in 1858 included 1 17,284 bushels of peanuts and 
20,203 bushels of oats. Direct trade to foreign ports was difficult for perishable products 
such as fruits and vegetables. Consequently, in 1 858 the city only directly exported 
$20,000 worth of goods, $19,000 of which were staves, to other countries. Cotton 



Forrest, The Norfolk Directory, For 1851-1852: Containing the Names, Professions, 
Places of Business, and Residences of the Merchants, Traders, and Manufacturers, 
Mechanics, Heads of Families, &c, Together with a List of the Public Buildings, the 
Names and Situations of the Streets, Lanes, and Wharves; and a Register of the Public 
Officers, Companies, and Associations, in the City of Norfolk. Also, Information Relative 
to Portsmouth: with a Variety of other Useful, Statistical and Miscellaneous Information 
(Norfolk: William S. Forrest, 1851), 114. 



32 

accounted for only 252 bales exported in that year. 15 In terms of manufacturing Norfolk 
did have a small industrial presence that included steam mills, a cotton factory, an iron 
factory, harness and carriage works, and a tannery. These industries were small 
compared with Richmond, the most industrialized city in the South, and certainly no 
comparison with the North. 16 

When examining the wealth of Norfolk, its residents appear to have been 
extremely successful during the antebellum period. The per capita wealth of the city 
increased from $417 in 1850 to over $900 in 1859, a greater rise than in New York or 
Boston. Per capita wealth figures do not provide a true indication of the relative 
success of a city and its people, however. Like other southern cities, Norfolk and her 
Virginia neighbors were playing catch-up to the North economically and were dependent 
upon northern cities for their livelihood. While merchants in the South enjoyed rising 
market prices during the 1 850s that increased their wealth, southern cities did not have 
the permanent economic infrastructure such as railroads, direct trade connections, liberal 



The destination, number of packets, and market values of garden products exported 
from Norfolk for 1858 were: Baltimore (67,424, $235,984.00), New York (52,301, 
$183,053.50), Philadelphia (7,305, $25,567.50), and Richmond (1,565, $5,477.50); W. 
Eugene Ferslew, comp., Vickery 's Directory for the City of Norfolk, to Which is Added a 
Business Directory for 1859 (Norfolk, Virginia: Vickery & Company, 1859), 25-26; 
Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 238; Parramore, Stewart, and 
Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 192. 

16 Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 189. 

17 This compares to 1850/1860 figures of $706.1 5/$779.29 for New York, 
$1,296.93/$ 1,543.77 for Boston, $801.30/$1,593.42 for Richmond (the third highest per 
capita wealth in the country), and $793. 15/$ 1,623, 31 for Lynchburg (the second highest 
per capita wealth in the country). New Bedford, Massachusetts was the wealthiest city in 
the country in terms of per capita wealth; Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of 
Sectionalism, 201. 



33 

financial system, manufacturing and processing factories, and a ready supply of labor to 
assure long-term, steady growth. Reflecting Virginia's shrinking role in American 
commerce, exports from Norfolk and Richmond were insignificant during the antebellum 

i x 

period. In 1 840 exports for the two Virginia cities totaled $4 million, just 3 percent of 
the total value of American exports. In 1860 exports increased to $5 million, but their 
percentage of the total value of the country's exports decreased to 1.3 percent. 19 

Although Norfolk never would regain its colonial trade preeminence during the 
antebellum period, residents continually tried to boost the city's economic fortunes with a 
number of internal improvement endeavors. One of the key projects was the Dismal 
Swamp Canal. A joint venture between Virginia and North Carolina, it connected the 
Elizabeth River (and by extension the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean) with the 



Virginia's overall share of American trade continued to decline throughout the decade 
leading to the Civil War. In 1851 the state comprised only .8 percent of the national 
trade, while New York controlled 52 percent. Ten years later the figures were even 
worse for the Old Dominion as its share of the country's trade dropped slightly to .7 
percent, but New York's leapt dramatically to 67.7 percent. Of course other northern 
states could not compete with New York either, but their shares of the national 
commercial trade outstripped Virginia's by a significant margin. Pennsylvania's figures 
for 1851 and 1861 were 4.5 and 3.8 percent, respectively, while the Massachusetts share 
for 1851 was 10.3 percent and for 1861 was 10.5 percent. Border city Maryland's 
commercial share actually rose from 2.8 percent in 1851 to 3.8 percent in 1861; Squires, 
Through the Years in Norfolk, 122-3. 



19 



These export figures do not compare favorably to New Orleans ($34 million and 25.8 
percent in 1840 and $107 million and 26.8 percent in 1860), Baltimore ($5 million/3.8 
percent in 1840 and $9 million/2.3 percent in 1860), Charleston ($10 million/7.6 percent 
in 1840 and $21 million/5.3 percent in 1860), Mobile ($12 million/9.1 percent in 1840 
and $38 million/9.5 percent in 1860), and Savannah ($6 million/4.5 percent in 1840 and 
$18 million/4.5 percent in 1860). Lack of local patronage of goods was a problem as 
residents of southern cities favored northern goods. Even during the sectional crisis of 
the 1850s merchants and consumers across the South desired what they perceived to be a 
large assortment of quality goods at a cheaper price from northern markets; Goldfield, 
Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 241-6. 



34 

Albemarle Sound and the principle rivers of North Carolina with their bountiful 
hinterlands. On 1 December 1 787 the General Assembly passed an act permitting the 
cutting of a canal and incorporated the Dismal Swamp Canal Company. The project 
would be plagued by years of construction delays, however. Bureaucratic bungling, 
financial and labor shortages, and poor management proved ruinous. It would take four 
decades and significant stock purchases by the federal government for it to be fully 
operational by 1829. Ultimately, the canal did not live up to its promise of economic 
riches as the moderate tolls collected during the 1840s and 1850s did not recoup the costs 
incurred during construction. Adding to the canal's difficulties, emerging rail lines such 
as the Portsmouth and Roanoke, and Norfolk and Petersburg Railroads sought to take 
away business. Worse yet it later faced competition from the Albemarle and Chesapeake 
Canal that commenced operation in 1 859. This canal was able to handle larger ships and 
required a shorter distance over flat land to connect the Elizabeth River with the North 
River and Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. 20 

During the antebellum years Norfolkians did recognize the importance of 
railroads to the local economy and expansion of trade. In April 1833 the Common 
Council subscribed $60,000 worth of shares in the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad 



20 



Citing commercial and military uses the federal government bought six hundred shares 
of stock in 1 826 and another two hundred in 1 829. President Andrew Jackson even took 
a tour of the Dismal Swamp Canal in July 1829. There were also plans to use the canal in 
conjunction with the new dry dock at the Gosport Naval Yard (first in America 
completed in 1833). During the antebellum period the Dismal Swamp Canal incurred 
costs of over $1.1 million, but only earned $631,000. For a study on the Dismal Swamp 
Canal see Alexander Crosby Brown, The Dismal Swamp Canal (Chesapeake, Virginia: 
Norfolk County Historical Society, 1970), especially 31-39, 56-64, 87-96. See also 
Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 147-51, 158-60; 
Peter Crawford Stewart, "The Commercial History of Hampton Roads, Virginia, 1815- 
1860" (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1967), 90, 95; Burton, History of Norfolk, 31. 



35 

Company (sometimes referred to as the Norfolk and Weldon Railroad) and another 
$40,000 that December. In January 1834 the Assembly authorized the construction of the 
railroad causing great jubilation in Norfolk as well as in Portsmouth and Roanoke, North 
Carolina. The railroad was designed to connect the Elizabeth River with Weldon, North 
Carolina and that state's eastern rivers and sounds. The connection to Weldon was not 
completed until 1837 and the revenue expected failed to materialize in the face of an 
economic depression, excessive operational costs, rate wars, large debts, and competition 
from the Petersburg and Roanoke Railroad. The railroad declared bankruptcy by 1 845 
and was sold to Boston and New York interests who reorganized it as the Seaboard and 
Roanoke Railroad. The line was reconstructed along a more direct eastern route to 
Weldon and completed by November 1 85 1 . The railroad would be a part of the 
foundation for the Seaboard Air Line Railway around the turn of the twentieth century. 21 



21 See Stewart, The Commercial History of Hampton Roads, 70-82. The city of Norfolk 
and individual investors received no dividends after about $1 million in investments; 
Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, \6\-$, 172-4. 
Severely damaged during the Civil War, the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad was 
repaired and in the postwar years became a main component of Norfolk trade; Jones, 
Norfolk as a Business Centre, 27. There was jubilation by the people on the passage of 
the railroad construction bill in January 1834, but eventually heartbreak as Robert Lamb 
reported, "Though it was the Sabbath, so great was the joy of our people both in Norfolk 
and Portsmouth over the victory won, that was to bring a brighter future, full of the most 
cheering anticipations of prosperity, wealth and commercial greatness, that the bells all 

rang out a merry peal Bonfires blazed on all the wharves and principal streets, and 

rockets illuminated the air, and for more than two hours the towns were almost wild in 
their exhibitions of joy. Unfortunately, however, the result proved that the rejoicing was 
premature; for despite its brilliant auspices, the difficulties subsequently encountered 
proved insurmountable, the road had to be abandoned, and our most sanguine hopes were 
all blasted;" Lamb, Our Twin Cities, 17. See also Charles W. Turner, "The Early 
Railroad Movement in Eastern Virginia," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 
55 (1947): 363-5; Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk, 282; and 
Burton, History of Norfolk, 8. 



36 

In December 1852 the city subscribed $200,000 to the capital stock of the Norfolk 
and Petersburg Railroad Company, chartered in March 1851. Construction on the eighty- 
mile railroad began in 1852, but was not completed until 1859. It would be the first 
railroad to run all the way into the city and be Norfolk's only rail connection to the west. 
It traveled to Petersburg where it connected with the Southside line that ran from 
Petersburg to Lynchburg. From there it met the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad that ran 
to Bristol. Despite the potential of these railroads to bring profits to all concerned, each 
was owned by different interests that minimized cooperation and subsequently receipts. 
The end of the Civil War found the railroads out of money and credit, tracks physically 
damaged, and bridges destroyed. After limping along for several years outside interests 
consolidated the three lines into the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio railroad in 1 870. It 
connected Norfolk with Bristol via the old lines, and from there to Chattanooga by way 
of the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad, and from there to Memphis where 
it connected with the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. The expanded system would 
dramatically increase Norfolk's exports of cotton in the postwar years. Nonetheless, 
market garden vegetable and fruit products shipped along the Atlantic coast would 
continue to be a key export for the city. 22 



In the years prior to the Civil War and for several years after Norfolk was a not a 
substantial exporter of cotton. In 1858-1859 receipts equaled 6,174 bales, in 1859-1860 
the figure increased to a still small 17,777 bales, and in 1860-1861 it nearly doubled to 
33,193 bales. After the war in 1865-1866 the cotton exported rose to 59,096 bales, but in 
1 866-1 867 there was a dramatic expansion to 126,287 bales. Receipts rapidly increased 
each year to 472,446 bales in 1873-1874 where it consistently stayed in the 400,000- 
500,000 range throughout the nineteenth century; Jones, Norfolk as a Business Centre, 
21-24, 105, 134; Lamb, Our Twin Cities, 26, 28; Burton, History of Norfolk, 13, 15; 
Stewart, The Commercial History of Hampton Roads, 88-89, 97-98. 



37 

In addition to transportation improvements the citizens of Norfolk promoted their 
city by sponsoring various commercial conventions. The first exhibition of the Norfolk 
Agricultural Society occurred in November 1 854 at the fair grounds. Over six thousand 
people attended the three-day event. In November 1859 the Seaboard Agricultural 
Society held its fifth annual exhibition at the fair grounds. The city also hosted state 
commercial conventions in 1838 and 1854. At the 1838 convention, with John Tyler (the 
former governor and future president) present, the conventions passed resolutions 
pledging to promote direct trade routes, increase hinterland agricultural production and 
manufacturing, develop internal improvements such as railroads and canals, and expand 
state banking capital. In 1854 key issues at the convention included connecting the Ohio 
River and Chesapeake Bay via a system of canals and establishing a steamer connection 
between Norfolk and Europe. 23 

During the antebellum years and into the postwar decades the economic rivalry 
between Norfolk and Richmond and Petersburg was seen as one of the chief problems 
facing the Tidewater port. The Fall Line cities controlled the General Assembly that 
inhibited the beneficial commercial development of Norfolk by denying assistance for 
railroads and other internal improvements. Their advantageous industrial concerns, 
access to cash crops like tobacco and cotton, and larger capital reserves precluded 
Norfolk from politically challenging their upcountry neighbors. In 1849 and 1850 there 
was even talk about Norfolk seeking annexation by North Carolina, which was seen as 



21 

Proceedings of the Commercial Convention of the States of Virginia and North 
Carolina, Held in Norfolk, Virginia on the 14 ,h , 15 th , and /($* of November 1838 
(Norfolk: T. G. Broughton, 1839); Burton, History of Norfolk, 16-19; Lamb, Our Twin 
Cities, 26, 28. 



38 

more commercially compatible and more receptive to the city's economic and 
improvement needs than the Old Dominion. 24 

Commerce and the very life of the city would be tested in the summer of 1855 as 
Norfolk suffered through a yellow fever epidemic that killed thousands of citizens and 
crippled its economy. In early June 1 855 the disease was brought to Norfolk by the 
steamer Benjamin Franklin that had arrived from the fever plagued Virgin Islands. The 
steamer proceeded to dock for repairs after being quarantined for twelve days. There 
were two hidden cases of the fever on board, however, and the disease steadily spread 
through the city. By the time the fever had ended in late October about two-thirds of the 
population, nearly ten thousand people, had contracted the disease and deaths occurred at 
frightening rates. Burials kept up as best they could, but there was no time for funerals. 
According to contemporary George D. Armstrong, coffins also were in short supply and 
many of the dead were buried up to four in a plain box or even buried in pits. Ultimately 
two thousand souls perished including Mayor Hunter Woodis, prominent businessmen, 
and more than half the physicians and ministers who had been caring for the sick. 25 



' A Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 173^; Goldfield, 
Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 205-6. 

" The yellow fever spread by means of mosquitoes biting the infected sailors on board 
the Benjamin Franklin and then carrying the virus to shore transmitting from person to 
person. Works on the yellow fever epidemic in Norfolk include David Goldfield, 
"Disease and Urban Image: Yellow Fever in Norfolk, 1855," Virginia Cavalcade 23 
(Autumn 1973): 34-41; Charles A. Nicholson, "The Tragic Summer of 1855 at Norfolk 
and Portsmouth, Virginia," Genealogical Society of Tidewater, Virginia Bulletin 10 
(December 1979): 171-88. For contemporary accounts see George D. Armstrong, The 
Summer of the Pestilence: A History of the Ravages of the Yellow Fever in Norfolk, 
Virginia, A.D. 1855, 3d ed. (Virginia Beach: W. S. Dawson & Co., 1994) and Forrest, 
The Great Pestilence in Virginia: Being an Historical Account of the Origin, General 
Character, and Ravages of the Yellow Fever in Norfolk and Portsmouth in 1855; 
Together with Sketches of Some of the Victims (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1856). 



39 

As if the human toll was not enough, the economic damage to the city would 
haunt Norfolk residents for years. Following the official pronouncement of the epidemic 
late in July, cities in Virginia and along the eastern seaboard stopped trading with 
Norfolk and turned away fleeing refugees. Keenly aware of these responses, Norfolk's 
local leaders withheld an official announcement for more than a month after the first 
cases were discovered and the pro-boosterism Daily Southern Argus suppressed news of 
the epidemic for six weeks. As the fever raged throughout the summer, Norfolkians who 
could leave the city did so and most businesses closed for months. Few ships entered the 
harbor and those that did brought more coffins and the mail rather than trade. Even when 
the epidemic subsided in the autumn and residents returned, economic progress was 
stunted as commerce did not recover its pre-fever levels until the end of the decade. On 
the surface the population remained about the same for 1 850 and 1 860 (14,326 and 
14,620, respectively), but in reality there was a significant population increase that made 
up for the yellow fever deaths. Norfolk did bounce back by the early 1860s, just in time 
for the onset of a civil war. 26 



26 



Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 153; Parramore, Stewart, and 
Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 178, 181, 192; Goldfield, "Yellow Fever in 
Norfolk, 1855," 38-39; Armstrong, The Summer of the Pestilence, 40. Following this 
devastating yellow fever epidemic that crippled the city, the winter of 1856-1857 brought 
a severe winter storm that wreaked more havoc on Norfolk's economy. In mid-January 
1 857 a rare blizzard snowstorm buried Norfolk and Portsmouth, with as much as twenty- 
foot snowdrifts in some places. The Elizabeth River froze over and closed these ports 
through mid February and the Chesapeake Bay was frozen for a mile and a half from 
shore. The blizzard became legendary and one often-told tale involves the bar in the 
center of the Elizabeth River. The frozen river became a winter wonderland where 
residents ventured onto the ice to visit, sleigh, and skate. An entrepreneur established a 
temporary booth on the ice about midway between Norfolk and Portsmouth where 
distilled spirits were sold to the thirsty, and, most assuredly, the cold residents. The ice 
bar was said to have done a very good business, but also caused many fights and 
unsteady legs among those who overly imbibed. Legend also says that an enterprising 



40 

Commercial trade was not the only concern for improvement during the 
antebellum years as Norfolkians sought to enhance their city physically. In the spring of 
1839 the Common Council filled Back Cove, a pond that had previously been an 
unsightly and noxious public nuisance thought by residents to breed disease. On its spot 
a public square was built decorated with shade trees, sidewalks, and iron railings. By 
1850 the public square would contain the new City Hall and other smaller (and fire- 
proof) buildings housing the clerk's and register's offices. Classical in design, the new 
City Hall was eighty feet by sixty feet with a portico supported by six Tuscan columns 
and a roof-top dome that was thirty-two feet in diameter and one hundred and ten feet 
high. At a cost of $50,000 it was paid for by selling the old Court House and an 
assessment of one dollar on each qualified Norfolk voter. Serving the community for 
over a century, contemporaries commented that the City Hall signified Norfolk's 
elevation from a borough to a city. 27 

Antebellum public building construction also included a new Custom House to 
replace the previous aging and dilapidated structure. In October 1850 Congress 
appropriated $50,000 its erection with the funds being increased to $100,000 two years 
later. Construction was completed by December 1 857 and the building also was classical 
in design containing a long flight of stairs to the entrance, a portico, and six columns with 



black family made money using its donkey cart to ferry the inebriated back to dry land. 
George Holbert Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 1584-1881 (Norfolk: Norfolk Historical 
Society, 1972), 75-76; Daily Southern Argus, 26 January 1857. 

The cornerstone for the building was laid in August 1 847 amidst the typical great 
fanfare of the time. There was a grand occasion with a parade and ceremony that 
included local leaders, fraternal organizations, militia units, naval officers, and prominent 
citizens; Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 21 1-2, 255; 
Burton, History of Norfolk, 9; Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 70-72. 



41 

Corinthian capitals. By March 1860 merchants were pleased with the completion of a 
new iron market house where farmers could sell their crops. At a cost of $19,000 it was 
210 feet long and forty feet wide containing seventy-two stalls for rent to local farmers 
and butchers. In general, Norfolk could boast of new and larger residences, larger stores, 
and well-paved streets. As was the case in other antebellum cities street paving in 
Norfolk generally was divided between businesses or individuals and the city. In the 
early 1850s, however, city fathers allocated public funds for paving of the streets in the 
business district because of a perception that muddy streets were connected to the spread 
of diseases that struck the city. 30 

Improvements in how Norfolkians commenced business came with a board of 
trade to regulate and promote commerce in the city (1 854), the establishment of a Corn 
Exchange (1857), and expansion of the city's police force to twenty men, proportionately 
larger than Richmond's police force ( 1 854). 3 ' City directories were published in 1 85 1 , 
1859, and 1860 facilitating not only day-to-day business, but advertising the city to 



70 

Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic Southern Port, 146-7; Burton, History of Norfolk, 29; 
Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk, 264. 



29 



Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 106, 111-3; Burton, History of 



Norfolk, 18; Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk, 213, 309. 



30 



Burton, History of Norfolk, 37; Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 
149. 

31 Burton, History of Norfolk, 27; Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First 
Four Centuries, 181-2. Of particular importance to be sure was the 1852 Cow Law 
ordinance maintaining that these animals were to be kept in enclosures or outside of city 
limits. Previously they had "been allowed to go at large in every part of the city, and get 
into all kinds of mischief, to the great annoyance of the citizens, generally, and to the 
women and children, particularly;" Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of 
Norfolk, 282, 285. 



42 

outsiders. Similarly, Williams S. Forrest's Historical and Descriptive Sketches of 
Norfolk and Vicinity served as an important tool for merchants in the decade before the 
Civil War. Published in 1853 it told the history of Norfolk in true booster style as it 
trumpeted the city's exemplary origins, glossed over its difficult times, and fawned over 
the growth since the early 1840s in terms of population, commerce, new buildings, port 
facilities, and its advantageous geography that gave it the highest potential for shipping 
and ironically even healthfulness. 32 

Utility improvements included the installation of an artesian well and pipes in the 
Market Square in 1 843 and the introduction of gas lighting. The Norfolk Gas Works was 
established on Briggs' Point in the eastern part of the city and in early October 1849 
stores along Main Street were illuminated with gas light. Observers described it as a jolly 
spectacle and great festival bringing out spectators of all ages, men and women, white 
and black. It was said to be "very brilliant" and showed off "to a great advantage the 
pretty things in the different stores in which it was used." 33 Despite the early success of 
gas illumination, not everything associated with the new technology proved beneficial. 



!2 Forrest, Norfolk Directory, For 1851-1852 and Historical and Descriptive Sketches of 
Norfolk; Ferslew, Vickery's Directory for the City of Norfolk. . .for 1859; E. M. Coffield 
& Co. comp., Second Annual Directory for the City of Norfolk, To Which is Added a 
Business Directory for 1860 (Norfolk: John R. Hathaway, 1860). 

The American Beacon and Norfolk and Portsmouth Daily Advertiser, 3 October 1 849. 
By March 1850 Freemason Street was the first street illuminated by gas lighting and in 
true boosterism fashion its benefits were loudly proclaimed. "It is really a comfort and a 

pleasure to promenade after dark on Freemason Street Aside from their convenience 

and the air of cheerfulness they shed, they contribute materially to the safety of property. 
And, in the largest cities, both in this country and Europe, they are considered more 
efficient in preventing crime than all the police employed for that purpose;" Daily 
Southern Argus, 5 March 1 850. See also Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of 
Norfolk, 246. 



43 

Residents living near the gas works complained that it created a nuisance with its smoke 
and soot. They sued the company, but lost in a court case that lasted over a year. 
Citizens threatened another lawsuit and the Norfolk Gas Company settled by purchasing 
the land of the complainants. Another difficulty was that the use of rosin caused the gas 
works to burn down three times, twice in 1852 alone. By March 1853 the gas works had 
solved these problems by moving to a different location and using coal in the gas 
production. 34 

An important area where Norfolk did make strides in the years just before the 
Civil War was public education. During most of the antebellum period Norfolk, like 
most southern cities, did not have a system of public education. Children of city 
residents could attend any one of a number of private schools and academies in the city 
and the surrounding counties. An early effort at some public education occurred in 1851 
when several Norfolk business leaders organized a manual labor school for indigent boys. 
It served the dual purpose of teaching boys how to use machinery for factory jobs to be 
developed in the city (thus alleviating the labor shortage resulting from selling slaves to 
the Deep South) and also as a means of curbing their propensity for roaming the streets. 
Their wild behavior was not only bad for the citizens, but boosters believed their actions 
did not present a positive picture to visitors and prospective trading partners. It does 
appear, however, to have been a short-lived enterprise. 35 



34 Daily Southern Argus, 5 March 1850; Tazewell, Vignettes from the Shadows, 21; 
Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 217. 



35 



Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 1 18-23. 



44 

The city also could boast of a private Lancastrian School that operated from about 
1815 to 1856. Incorporating the monitorial system developed by Englishman John 
Lancaster, the school's curriculum included spelling, reading, arithmetic, writing, 
catechism, and Bible verses. The Lancastrian School received some state monies and 
local funding in the amount of $3,000 initial appropriation for a school house and yearly 
allocations of $400 from the city councils. Throughout its existence, however, private 
contributions were necessary to sustain the school's existence. The Lancastrian School 
could be classified as a charitable institution in that some who could not afford it were 
educated there for free or little charge. As such, this was the city's version of a free 
school for most of the antebellum period. 36 

The most celebrated and enduring private school was the Norfolk Academy. 
Established in 1786, its enrollment declined in the 1830s and the school building was in 
disrepair. A movement emerged to sell the old Academy property, purchase a new lot, 
and build a new school using public subscriptions. On 25 May 1840 the cornerstone was 
laid for the new Norfolk Academy with an elaborate ceremony complete with a parade, 
speeches by public officials, bands, associations, and hundreds of school children. 
Completed by June 1841, the building was of a classical design, being modeled after the 
temple of Theseus at Athens. It stood ninety-one feet long by forty-seven, containing two 
porticos with six Doric columns each. The Academy interior included a library, large 
lecture hall, and four classrooms. Teachers taught the standard subjects for a classical 



!6 Henry S. Rorer, History of Norfolk Public Schools, 1681-1968 (Norfolk: Henry S. 
Rorer, 1968), 21-24, 31; Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 109-10. 



45 

English education, along with military courses. The building housed the Academy until 
1 877 when it became the Norfolk Public Library. 

In 1850 the General Assembly of Virginia passed a law encouraging any city in 
the state with a corporation court to establish a free school system. Municipal leaders in 
Norfolk conducted a poll to determine if there was sufficient interest in free schools in 
the city and a majority voted in the affirmative. It was not until three years later in 
August 1853, however, that the Common and Select Councils appointed a committee to 
develop a plan to establish public schools. Over a year later in the fall of 1 854 the School 
Committee recommended "the establishment of a Free School in each of the four wards 
and the building of suitable houses for the purpose, and the employment of competent 

TO 

teachers." After another year-long delay, in January 1 856 the Norfolk councils passed 
resolutions for the establishment of free public schools, one in each of four districts, that 
would teach reading, writing, English, grammar, history, arithmetic, geography, and 
physical science. The first public school system in the Commonwealth, funds would 
come from a special two dollar tax designated for the schools on every white male in 
Norfolk over the age of twenty-one. The resolution said that any white child from 6 to 21 



37 



Thomas U. Walker, an architect from Philadelphia who had worked on the Capitol in 
Washington, D. C, designed the new Academy building. The old Norfolk Academy 
building currently is home to the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. American 
Beacon, 16 June 1841; Rorer, History of Norfolk Public Schools, 15-16, Edward Wilson 
James, ed., The Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary (Norfolk: The Friedenwald 
Company, 1902) 27-32; Burton, History of Norfolk, 9; Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic 
Southern Port, 152-3. 

TO 

Norfolk Public Schools information from C. W. Mason, Superintendent of Schools in 
1936, in Squires, Through the Years in Norfolk, 248-9. See also Goldfield, Urban 
Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 166-7. 



46 

years of age could attend and that the city would provide books and stationery free of 
charge. 

In May 1857 the city opened its first public school on the grounds of Ashland 
Hall with two teachers (one for each sex) and about one hundred students (seventy-six 
boys and twenty-two girls). Several months later the councils increased the school tax to 
four dollars (and still later to six dollars) and if more was required, up to 4 percent of the 
general taxes collected in the city. While books and stationery were paid for by the city, 
there was a two-dollar charge for each child attending and generally a limit of two 
children per family. The new school system not only would educate children, but, once 
again, be a device to get underage boys off the streets as only 40 percent between the 
ages of six and sixteen attended school. 40 Although strides would be made in public 
education, it would not be until 1 870 that the Norfolk Library Association was organized 
and the first truly public library would be established in the city. During the antebellum 
period several associations operated subscription libraries throughout. The Norfolk 
Athenaeum established such a library beginning in January 1816 and operated it until the 
Athenaeum closed in 1842. The Norfolk Lyceum sponsored a subscription library from 
1827 to about 1839, and following this the Washington Institute and Library Association 



19 Rorer, History of Norfolk Public Schools, 3 1 ; Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of 
Sectionalism, 167. 

The new Virginia constitution adopted in 1 869 authorized the first statewide public 
school system; Rorer, History of Norfolk Public Schools, 31-37, 60. See also Norfolk 
public school section written by C. W. Mason, Superintendent of Schools in 1936, in 
Squires, Through the Years in Norfolk, 248-9; Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: 
The First Four Centuries, 184-5. 



47 

organized a library that lasted from 1835 to 1855, at which time the yellow fever 
epidemic forced its closure. 41 

Norfolkians enjoyed the usual entertainment available during the antebellum 
period such as traveling opera companies, minstrel shows, performances by such 
contemporary acts as ten-year-old Adelina Parti and Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, and 
local orchestral performances by the Norfolk Philharmonic Association and the Norfolk 
Musical Association. The Avon Theatre was Norfolk's premier place for theatrical and 
musical amusement for over a decade. Seating 1 ,200 and classic in architecture with its 
Doric columns, the Avon opened in October 1839 with a performance of Knowles's 
Hunchback. The theatre played host to the greatest performers of the day including 
Junius Brutus Booth before burning down in 1 850. That same year the Mechanical 
Society completed its construction of Mechanics' Hall, a venue that quickly took the 
Avon's place for entertainment as well as housing exhibitions, lectures, fairs, and various 
association meetings. Mechanics' Hall remained standing in Norfolk until 1960 when it 
was torn down, its final years spent as the burlesque Gaiety Theater. The last theater 
erected prior to the Civil War was the Norfolk Varieties. It opened in 1 856, promptly 
changed its name the next year to Odd Fellows' Hall, and changed it once again in 1859 
to the Church Street Opera House. The Opera House showcased theatrical troupes, 
musical and comedy reviews, and minstrel shows until 1 880 when it was eclipsed by the 
newly-built Academy of Music. Some of the finest actors of the antebellum period 






Prominent citizens such as Littleton W. Tazewell, William Wirt, and William B. Lamb 
also had libraries; Stewart, History of Norfolk County, Virginia, 186; Tucker, Norfolk 
Highlights, 118. 



48 

performed at the Opera House including James E. Murdoch, D. W. Waller, and Mary 
Devlin. 42 

Norfolk's antebellum population included significant numbers of non-whites and 
non-Protestants. The city's Jewish population grew during the first half of the nineteenth 
century, principally on account of an influx of German Jewish immigrants to the United 
States. By 1820 they had established a cemetery on the outskirts of town in nearby 
Berkley and in 1 850 the larger Hebrew Cemetery was opened with many of the bodies 
from the Berkley cemetery transplanted there. Norfolk Jews convinced a recently arrived 
Orthodox German Jew named Jacob Umstadter to become the Kosher butcher and Cantor 
for the community. A regular congregation began in 1 848 as they rented two rooms in 
the home of one of its members. The congregation would grow and move into space at 
the former Norfolk Lyceum and later the Odd Fellows' Hall. Following the destruction 
of the Odd Fellows' Hall in February 1859, the Jewish congregation purchased a lot 
where they built the city's first Jewish synagogue, led by Umstadter. 43 

Race relations in Norfolk during the two decades prior to the Civil War were 
much like they were in other southern cities. Several modern Norfolk historians put it 
succinctly when they wrote that "Blacks annoyed some whites by their very existence." 
Whites in Norfolk were continually concerned with blacks congregating in large or small 



42 



Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 49, 52-53; Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of 
Norfolk, 25 1 ; Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic Southern Port, 131; Burton, History of 
Norfolk, 25, 29, 31, 34; Stephen M. Archer, Junius Brutus Booth: Theatrical Prometheus 
(Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 268, 275. According to Gordon 
Samples, Lust for Fame: The Stage Career of John Wilkes Booth (North Carolina: 
McFarland & Company, 1982), the younger Booth never performed in Norfolk. 



43 



Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 101-3; Ferslew, Vickery 's Directory for the City of 
Norfolk... for 1859,164. 



49 

groups, that they not be allowed to drink distilled spirits, with what they carried (such as 
canes), and even what black women wore (e.g. no bonnets). Hiring out of slaves and 
employing free blacks in craft trades was another concern for whites as black artisans 
could be hired at cheaper rates, thus displacing white workers. Some even called on the 
legislature to bar blacks from all trades in 1 85 1 . Generally free blacks lived in shanty 
towns in the northern half of the city. The areas were necessarily near their places of 
work and interspersed with white businesses and homes. 44 

Free blacks worshipped alongside whites in Norfolk's first Baptist congregation 
in 1800. White members of this interracial church separated in 1816, however, and 
formed Cumberland Street Baptist Church. The free blacks continued on as an 
independent congregation being ministered to by a white clergyman. This would be the 
predecessor to modern black Baptist churches in the city. By 1851 there were four 
evangelical churches serving blacks where they played leadership roles as deacons and 
trustees. The Cumberland Street Methodist Church established a missionary church for 
slaves in 1840 that would evolve into the St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in 
1848. The Catholic Church allowed black members and occasionally even permitted 
illegal marriages between slaves and free blacks. 45 

Although educating free blacks and slaves was illegal, educational opportunities 
for free blacks did exist occasionally prior to the Civil War. Margaret Douglass, a white 
teacher from Charleston, South Carolina who had lived in Norfolk for eight years, began 



44 Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, \%2-4. 

3 Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 122; Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First 
Four Centuries, 1 84. 



50 

educating free blacks at her school in 1 853. Arrested for teaching slaves and free blacks, 
the case received national attention as Douglass was found guilty, sentenced to one 
month in the city jail, and following her release moved to Philadelphia. Christ Church 
and Bute Street Baptist Church also operated illegal Sunday Schools for blacks. 46 
Federal occupation during the Civil War brought Norfolk its first free public schools for 
blacks. Opened in 1863 classes were held in the free schools formerly teaching white 
children before the war. These schools came to an end in 1865 with the cessation of 
hostilities. It would take two more years for education to be provided to blacks when the 
American Missionary Association established schools in 1867. These schools continued 
until 1871 when city councils established one public school in each ward for the city's 
black children. 47 

Politically, in an otherwise Democratic state, there was a longstanding dominance 
by the Whigs in Norfolk. By 1854, however, the American Party had won control of city 
government. The Know-Nothings were elected by some who agreed with their anti- 
Catholicism and anti-immigration platform. Much of their support came from displaced 
Whigs looking for a party to oppose Democrats and those who supported the Know- 
Nothings' Unionist position. The American Party maintained control of the councils and 
most city offices even in 1855 when the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Henry A. 
Wise won a resounding victory, and Democrat Hunter Woodis beat Know-Nothing 
Simon Stubbs (a former Whig) in the mayoral race. 48 








46 



47 



4X 



Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 185. 
Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 121; Rorer, History of Norfolk Public Schools, 58-59. 
Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries 1 80-1 . 






51 

The sectional crisis was a topic of much concern during the 1850s, but impacted 
Norfolk directly when on 26 November 1859 militia companies from the city and 
Portsmouth reported for duty to Harpers Ferry where John Brown was being tried for 
treason and insurrection. The Norfolk Riflemen sent sixty-four of their number while the 
Portsmouth Grays mustered fifty-nine militiamen as Brown was hanged on 2 
December. 49 

During the tempestuous months leading to Virginia's secession, the local 
newspapers, like others across the South debated the issues. On 10 November 1860 
Abram F. Leonard and William Lamb, editors of the states' rights newspaper, the Daily 
Southern Argus, wrote that "Sooner or later the ties which now link together the North 
and South must be sundered. How closely the inevitable effect will follow the cause, 
may be a matter of speculation, but it can only be a matter of time." After South Carolina 
seceded from the Union in December 1860, Leonard and Lamb cheered the state's 
decision, proclaiming "Right nobly the proud and brave sons of South Carolina met the 
emergency. At one stroke they have severed the chains which bind them to a tyrannous 
North, and they now stand before the world an independent people." In sharp contrast 
Thomas G. Broughton, editor of the Unionist Norfolk and Portsmouth Herald asked why 
Virginia should "dance crazily out of the Union to the fiddling of South Carolina?" 50 

During the election of 1 860 the majority of Norfolkians and the rest of the Old 
Dominion, elected John Bell of the Old Line Whigs' Constitutional Union party to the 



49 Burton, History of Norfolk, 35-36. 



50 



Leonard and Lamb quotes from Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 89-90. Broughton quote 
in Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 199. 



52 

presidency with 986 votes. Southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckinridge 
received 438 votes while Stephen A. Douglas, the Northern Democratic candidate, 
received only 232 votes. Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln received no votes in 
Norfolk. 51 

On 4 February 1861 residents elected Unionist candidate George Blow over 
secessionist proponent James R. Hubard to represent the city at the upcoming state 
convention in Richmond to decide the issue of secession. Sentiment favoring secession 
from the Union grew in Norfolk over the next two months, however. On 2 April a 
Confederate flag was hung from one of the residences on Wolfe Street and two days later 
a gathering of citizens at Mechanics' Hall adopted resolutions instructing Blow to vote 
for secession. Nevertheless, on 4 April the Norfolk delegate voted with majority (88 to 
45) against seceding from the Union. Events in South Carolina would change the city's 
and state's course of action, however. When word reached Norfolk that Fort Sumter had 
been bombed and that General Pierre G. T. Beauregard had demanded its surrender, 
contemporary historian H. W. Burton wrote that the news "caused great excitement in the 
city" and described the war feeling as growing to a "fever pitch." On 17 April 1861 
following Lincoln's call for troops to subdue the Palmetto state, Blow and a majority of 
the convention delegates voted 88 to 55 for an Ordinance of Secession. 52 



'' Burton, History of Norfolk, 41; Squires, Through the Years in Norfolk, 45. 



52 



Burton, History of Norfolk, 43^5, 55; Virginius Dabney, Virginia: The New 
Dominion. A History from 1607 to the Present (Charlottesville: University Press of 
Virginia, 1971), 291-4. Secession convention votes in George H. Reese, ed., 
Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861 (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 
1965), 3:163 (4 April 1861 vote) and 4:144 (17 April 1861 vote). 



53 

Beyond the firing on Fort Sumter, the idea of secession appealed to many, 
especially in urban communities, who had plans to expand commercial trade free from 
perceived northeastern and governmental restraints. Like other southern port cities, even 
though Norfolk depended on the North for commerce, businessmen wanted to remove 
themselves from the colonial economic relationship with the northeastern cities and 
expand their trade networks within the South as well as to the West and foreign ports, 
thus eventually bringing about economic (and by extension political) sectional equality. 
After Sumter Norfolkians fully supported the southern cause as Confederate flags were 
raised and citizens rejoiced at the news of Virginia's decision to secede. They stood 
behind a secessionist who wrote to the Argus in early December that "if I thought my life 
would be free forever from any interference from the North, I would gladly give it." 53 

Following the Old Dominion's secession, Richmond would be chosen as the new 
capital and by June it was the seat of power for the new Confederacy. Norfolk's active 
participation in the war would be short-lived, however. On April 19 Lincoln ordered a 
blockade of southern ports and two days later evacuating federal forces at the Gosport 
Naval Yard set fire to the naval stores, arms, and several ships. The March 1862 battle 
between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (Merrimack) was the only 
significant ocean battle of the war and the draw sealed Norfolk's fate. Believing now that 
the city could not be held against Union forces coming from the south and north, there 
was little Confederate defense of the port. Norfolk was captured by Union forces, with 



1 Secessionist quote in Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four 
Centuries, 199. For a discussion of Virginia cities, economic dependence, and 
sectionalism issues on the eve of secession see Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of 
Sectionalism, 246-69. 



54 

the formal capitulation by Mayor William W. Lamb occurring on 10 May 1862. Lincoln 
rode through the streets of Norfolk the following day. Federal troops and control of the 
city would remain until June 1865. : ' 4 

From this brief historical review, we can see how Norfolk closely resembled 
many other southern port cities during the antebellum period in its demographic, social, 
and economic characteristics. In his work on southern urbanization, David R. Goldfield 
argues that race, agriculture, and a subservient role in the national economy have 
dominated the character, and subsequently limited the growth, of southern cities. Urban 
slavery and postwar labor systems squandered human resources by devaluing human 
capital and producing a large block of nonconsumers in the South. This curtailed the 
development of southern cities by reducing commercial demand and capital 
accumulation, and limiting geographic and occupational mobility. Socially and culturally 
biracialism turned the South into a region distinguished by rigid resistance to change, 
individualism, intensified religious beliefs, a contempt for laws and legality, and the 
acceptance of labor as an exploitable resource. 55 

Because of its dependence on staple crop agriculture, the South was limited by its 
subservient colonial role in the national economy that had been centered in the northern 
cities, especially New York, since the 1840s. Southern cities developed regional 



54 Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 91; Lamb, Our Twin Cities, 29; Parramore, Stewart, and 
Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 206-8. 

55 



Goldfield, Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, 6-7. 



55 

specialization whereby they mainly produced, but rarely processed, raw materials. They 
were dependent on northern cities for everything from manufactured goods to credit. 
Acting as mere conduits between southern farmers and the northern economic centers had 
the effect of limiting capital accumulation and investment, and with these opportunities 
for regional growth. To counter this subservient economic role southern city leaders, 
Goldfield argues, "became obsessed with the growth ethic — an exaggerated form of 
boosterism that doted ... on any scheme that could possibly stimulate growth and hence 
lessen dependency." 56 

Norfolk displayed these same characteristics as the city had a sizeable slave and 
free black population whose purchasing power was reduced or non-existent. 57 Although 
Norfolk's economy was not dominated by staple agriculture such as cotton in the Deep 
South or tobacco in the Upper South, the city's market garden economy produced the 
same results. Norfolk's vegetable and fruit trade dominated the economy in that most 
businesses in the city were directly or indirectly affected by this commercial entity. The 
city was subservient to the northeastern economy as it was only a commercial stopover 
for goods heading toward New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Norfolk processed little 
of the agricultural products and did not directly ship them to northern cities, foreign 
destinations, or even the South. Like most southern cities, the exception being 



Staple crop agriculture such as tobacco and cotton underscored the Jeffersonian ideal 
of agriculture as the foundation of a republican society, but limited the development of 
southern cities as urban environments only grew to serve the basic marketing needs of the 
farmer and planter and determined their character as they moved to the seasonal rhythms 
of staple crop harvesting; ibid., 8. 

ibid., 6-7, 47-52; Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic Southern Port, 139^0- Tucker 
Norfolk Highlights, 1 39-40. 



56 

Richmond, the Tidewater port did not possess significant manufacturing enterprises of 
any significance and those that did exist were small and confined to agricultural 
production/ 8 

During the two decades leading to the Civil War Norfolk, like its southern 
brethren, would embark on numerous, mostly failing, boosterism improvement projects 
within a context of sectionalism to become economically independent. Little did they 
realize, however, that New York and the other northern cities were too far ahead and 
trade routes too embedded to ever be threatened by southern commerce. Southern cities 
would grow physically, population would increase, and internal improvements 
developed, but they never would catch up to their northern counterparts — the latter' s 
head start and subsequent development were too much to overcome. In fact, despite their 
best efforts and grandiose dreams, on the eve of the Civil War southern cities would be 
farther behind the North than ever before. 59 

Norfolk also shared many attributes with its southern neighbors such as 
heightened susceptibility to economic downturns, greater risk of epidemics, and lack of 
public support and corresponding dependence on private efforts for relief of the poor, 
infirmed, and orphans. Education was another similarity as most southern states did not 



CO 

Norfolk had by far the lowest level of manufacturing of any major city in the South. 
United States Census Office, Statistics of the United States, Including Mortality, 
Property, &c, in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns and Being the Final Exhibit 
of the Eighth Census (New York: Norman Ross Publishing, 1990), xviii. See Table 2 for 
a table providing the value of manufacturing products in 1 860 for southern cities over 
10,000. 

Goldfield explains that during the 1 840s and 1 850s nearly every large and small 
southern city was guilty of amassing huge amounts of debt resulting from to internal 
improvement projects such as railroads, turnpikes, and canals, many of which failed, thus 
driving the cities further into debt; Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, 33-34, 43-44, 58-64. 



57 

establish public school systems during the antebellum period. Virginia was somewhat 
ahead of the rest of the South in this regard as its legislature passed an act allowing for 
localities to establish public schools. The only city to do so was Norfolk, but not until 
1857 were they established. Still, the efforts of the city and state on this issue do not 
compare to the public school systems developed in the North. 60 

Ultimately Norfolk shared a great many characteristics with other southern port 
cities such as the dependence on commercial agricultural as its driving economic force, 
lack of significant manufacturing enterprises, the presence of slaves and free blacks that 
influenced all aspects of society, colonial economic dependence on northeastern cities, 
and an aggressive boosterism borne out of sectionalism that drove the cities into massive 
debts. In terms of population, both white and black, free and slave, Norfolk was neither 
the largest nor the smallest compared to the other major cities and towns in the South. 61 
While the region is too complex to describe a "typical" southern urban environment, 
during the antebellum period Norfolk shared the basic and recognizable characteristics 
associated with the region to be called "southern." 






In describing these characteristics Goldfield uses a number of Upper and Deep South 
states such as New Orleans, Mobile, Richmond, Norfolk, Charleston, and Savannah. He 
also uses the Norfolk Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor as an 
example of how severe these private organizations were in that assistance would only be 
given to those who could aid from it, Goldfield, Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, 40-42. 

See Table 3 for a table displaying the population statistics for southern cities in 1860. 



58 







TABLE 1 










Norfolk Population 


Statistics 




Year 


Total Population 


Whites 


Slaves 


Free Blacks 


1821 


8,608 


4748(55.1%) 


3,261 (37.9%) 


599 (7%) 


1830 


9,816 


5131 (52.3%) 


3,757 (38.3%) 


928 (9.4%) 


1840 


10,920 


6185(56.6%) 


3,709 (34%) 


1,026(9.4%) 


1850 


14,326 


9075 (63.3%) 


4,295 (30%) 


956 (6.7%) 


1860 


14,620 


10290(70.4%) 


3,284 (22.5%) 


1,046(7.1%) 



United States Census Office, Compendium of the Enumeration of the Inhabitants and 
Statistics of the United States, as Obtained at the Department of State, From the Returns 
of the Sixth Census (New York: Norman Ross Publishing, 1990), 32-34 

United States Census Office, The Seventh Census of the United States, 1850: Embracing 
a Statistical View of Each of the States and Territories (New York: Norman Ross 
Publishing, 1990), 258. 

United States Census Office, Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the 
Original Returns of the Eighth Census (New York: Norman Ross Publishing, 1990), 519. 

Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic Southern Port (Durham, North Carolina: Duke 
University Press, 1931), 139-40. 



59 

TABLE 2 

Manufactured Product Values (1860) 

for Southern Cities Over 10,000 



Mobile 

Savannah 

Memphis 

Nashville 

Richmond 

Petersburg 

Norfolk 

Charleston 

New Orleans 

St. Louis 

Louisville 

Washington, D.C. 

Baltimore 

Covington, Ky 

Wheeling 

Alexandria 

Augusta, Ga. 



$1.36 million 
$1.91 million 
$1.67 million 
$1.84 million 
$12.8 million 
$3.53 million 
$447,381 
$1.06 million 
$10.93 million 
$21.77 million 
$12.93 million 
$3.41 million 
$21.08 million 
$1.75 million 
$3.53 million 
$751,370 
$1.31 million 



United States Census Office, Statistics of the United States, Including Mortality, 
Property, &c, in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns and Being the Final Exhibit 
of the Eighth Census (New York: Norman Ross Publishing, 1990), xviii. 



60 

TABLE 3 
Southern Population Statistics for 1 860 



City 



Total 



Free 



Slave 



Pop. 
Alexandria 12,654 

Atlanta 9,554 

Charleston 39,870 

Memphis 22,623 

Mobile 29,258 

Norfolk 14,620 

New Orleans 168,675 

Richmond 37,910 

Savannah 22,292 

Wilmington 9,552 



Foreign 



11,266(89%) 1,386(11.0%) 

1,415 free blacks 



7,640 (80%) 
25 free blacks 

23,210 (58.2%) 
3,219(8.1%) 



1,914 (20%) 605 (5.3% in Co.) 



13,441 (33.7%) 



18,939(83.7%) 3,684(16.3%) 6,938(30.7%) 

198 free blacks 

21,671(74.19%) 7,587(25.9%) 7,061(24.1%) 

8 1 7 free blacks 

1 1,336 (77.5%) 3,284 (22.5%) 

1 ,046 free blacks 



155,290(92.1%) 
10,689 free blacks 

26,211(69.1%) 
2,576 free blacks 



13,385(7.9%) 64,621(38.3%) 



11,699(30.9%) 4,956(13%) 



14,580(65.4%) 7,712(34.6%) 4,652(20.9%) 

705 free blacks 

5,775 (60.5%) 3,777 (39.5%) 511 (6.1%) 



United States Census Office, Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the 
Original Returns of the Eighth Census (New York: Norman Ross Publishing, 1990); 
Lawrence H. Larsen, The Rise of the Urban South (Lexington: The University Press' of 
Kentucky, 1985); Jason Poole, "On Borrowed Ground: Free African- American Life in 
Charleston, South Carolina," Essays in History, 36 (1994): 1-33. 















CHAPTER 3 
BENEVOLENT SOCIETIES IN ANTEBELLUM NORFOLK 



During the two decades leading to the Civil War benevolent societies throughout 
the country were essential to assisting those in physical need. Often inspired by the 
reforming impulses of the Second Great Awakening, middle-class elites organized 
benevolent societies that provided assistance beyond what local governments would not 
or could not render. 1 Throughout the South especially municipal governments did not 
allocate sufficient funds for public services to aid the needy. They believed that private 
organizations and associations should bear the burden of taking care of the poor, 
disabled, mentally ill, and destitute. What local funds that did exist usually were 



1 Camilla Townsend writes that in Baltimore an elite class of merchants who possessed 
wealth and power — a "rising upper bourgeoisie" — became active in moral and 
benevolent causes because of the effects of the Second Great Awakening; Tales of Two 
Cities, 101-3, 109-10. In Poughkeepsie, New York, the city's upper and "more 
comfortable" middle classes established civic organizations like the benevolent societies 
such as the Home for the Friendless and the Old Ladies Home; Clive Griffen and Sally 
Griffen, Natives and Newcomers, 40. In her study of the family in Oneida, New York, 
Mary P. Ryan writes that the reforming impulses arising from the Second Great 
Awakening pushed individuals out of their homes and domestic lives to form voluntary 
associations during the 1830s and 1840s, providing a context for gathering together 
outside the home and civic domains; Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class, xii, 236-7. The 
religious fervor surround the Second Great Awakening also spurred the development of 
what Paul Boyer terms "evangelical voluntarism" of Bible and tract societies and Sabbath 
schools during the Jacksonian Era that was the first attempt at shaping the moral 
character of the poor of the society; Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 1-2, 10-15. 
For discussion of the Great Awakening and benevolent activities see Paul E. Johnson, A 
Shopkeeper 's Millennium and Whitney R. Cross, The Burned Over District: The Social 
and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 
(Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1950), 14-29, 126-37. 



61 



62 

allocated for commercial improvements in streets, docks, warehouses, market-houses, 
hotels, and especially canals and railroad facilities. 

The middle class responded with benevolent organizations that provided the 
physical necessities of life such as fuel, food, and clothing to the needy. In their methods 
of service provision and the characteristics they sought in the recipients of aid the middle 
class promoted their values of industry, thrift, sobriety, and self-discipline. Not all who 
required assistance received it as benevolent societies increasingly gave only to those 
deemed to be the worthy poor. Misfortune, unemployment, loss or death of a bread 
winner, and other external factors could explain penury but personal failings disqualified 
the rest. 3 These associations served to improve the material conditions of these persons 



2 In a previous chapter, we have discussed Norfolk's multitude of efforts at physically 
improving the city. John S. Gilkeson argues that middle-class associations acted as 
surrogates for the weak governmental authority that existed for much of the nineteenth 
century; Middle-Class Providence, 7-10, 55-56. David R. Goldfield and Lawrence H. 
Larsen discuss extensively the spending habits of southern urban governments in their 
regional overviews. See Goldfield, Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, esp. 5-7, 37—45, and 
Larsen, The Urban South, esp. 40-42. For specific examples of southern cities allocating 
funds to these types of projects see James M. Russell, Atlanta, 1847-1890, 49-58 and 
Harriet E. Amos, Cotton City, 26-45, 70-75. 

3 In Baltimore the upper bourgeoisie directed benevolent societies to assist needy women 
and children and petitioned the city council for firewood to be provided to "poor and 
worthy citizens" during the winter months; Townsend, Tales of Two Cities, 102-3. John 
W. Quist explains in his work on Washtenaw, Michigan, and Tuscaloosa that prior to the 
Civil War benevolent societies existed in the North and South that doled out assistance to 
the "worthy poor" of the community such as women who were elderly, infirmed, or 
widowed and thus not responsible for their predicament; Restless Visionaries, 81-86. 
Paul Boyer explains that the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the 
Poor (AICP), organized in 1843, provided assistance to those poor who were destitute for 
reasons beyond their control such as the loss of a breadwinner; Urban Masses and Moral 
Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 86-94; In 
The Web of Progress: Private Values and Public Styles in Boston and Charleston, 1828- 
1843 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease 
explain that in Boston provision of assistance was based on the idea of providing 
temporary aid to those worthy poor who deserved it. This was done in a context of 






63 

and also sought to instill or elevate middle-class beliefs. In a context of antebellum 
boosterism, benevolent societies not only hoped to improve the individual for his own 
sake, but also to create a better citizen to contribute positively to the larger community 
and, correspondingly, not be a drain to the resources and spirit of the town. 4 

Norfolk exemplified these characteristics in the benevolent societies that existed 
there during the two decades leading to the Civil War. These organizations provided 
necessary food, fuel, and clothing to the needy and destitute for whom the town council 
did not allocate sufficient funds. The middle-class organizers exhibited and promoted 



maintaining social stability and religious obligation. In contrast, benevolent societies and 
individuals in Charleston provided relief to those who required it within a context of 
paternalistic noblesse oblige and personal obligation; 145-52. For other studies on 
benevolent societies promoting middle-class values also see Gilkeson, Middle-Class 
Providence, esp. 9-55 and Blumin, The Emergence of the Middle Class, 192-206. 

In his examination of Jacksonville, Illinois, Don H. Doyle, explains how civic boosters 
pushed for internal improvements in the town, expanded public services, and led the way 
in the elevation of the lower orders that would help the town grow. Their elevation not 
only enabled them to contribute to the economy of the town, but also helped to mediate 
internal conflict by creating a sense of community among the divergent populations. All 
of these would help make Jacksonville more attractive to outsiders and prospective trade 
partners; The Social Order of a Frontier Community, 64, 225-6. Paul Boyer explains 
that when establishing the New York AICP, compassion for the urban poor did not 
motivate middle-class leaders who believed that individual poverty, neighborhood slums, 
and being poor mostly were a result of character failings that led to moral depravity. 
Ultimately they threatened the stability of the larger society and the concomitant crime, 
vice, riots, and gang wars. Financial assistance and counseling from the AICP instructed 
the morally bankrupt poor to improve their character, altering their detrimental vice- 
ridden daily habits and instilling in them with such values and habits as industry, thrift, 
and sobriety; Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 86-94. John W. Quist argues 
that in parallel with the North benevolent societies attempted to instill self-control in the 
poor and working classes in order for them to contribute to the progress of the 
community and national market economy. They also stressed spiritual improvement that 
would parallel the material and technological improvement and mediate the potential for 
social turmoil in this age of dramatic changes. Like their Whig counterparts in the North 
Alabama's benevolent workers believed that by attacking poverty with their programs 
they were aiding in the spiritual growth and economic development of the individual and 
by extension the country as a whole; Restless Visionaries, 71-77. 



64 

their values of industry, thrift, sobriety, and piety by their methods of service provision 
and limiting recipients to the designated worthy poor. The provision of basic items for 
survival was seen by local boosters as a way of helping these individuals become 

productive members of society and contribute to the elevation of the community. 

************ 

The Norfolk Humane Society (or Association as it was sometimes styled) was the 
predominant organization devoted to assisting the poor or those in distress during the 
antebellum period. The society existed the entire year to address specific relief efforts. 
Generally it would lie dormant during the spring through autumn months and then 
reorganize sometime in November and December to provide assistance for the upcoming 
winter. Prior to each year's reorganizational meeting the managers placed notices in the 
local newspapers asking for contributions and inviting those who were interested in 
assisting the poor to attend the meeting. The society's officers divided the city into wards 
for the purposes of soliciting contributions and committees were formed to carry out 
specific tasks such as the purchasing and distribution of wood. 5 

A letter from "V" to the American Beacon late in 1 840 extolled the virtues of the 
Humane Society in helping the unfortunate of the city, especially the women, children, 
and widows in dire straits. "V" closed with a plea not to wait for the society's solicitors 
to come and ask for donations, but to send them in forthwith. On this same date, William 
E. Cunningham, editor of the American Beacon, called attention to the organization and 
appealed to those who would waste money on luxuries to instead donate to philanthropic 



5 



American Beacon, 14 January, 19, 29 November 1 839, 14 January, 4 February 1118 
December 1840, 3 November, 19 December 1842, 19 December 1843, 1113 December 
1845. 



65 

causes such as the society. In encouraging the public to alleviate the suffering of the poor 
and destitute, Cunningham explained that charity began at home and that "the rich should 
never forget that in the vicissitudes of their mortal career they know not what in their 
future condition and circumstances may be." While riches were fleeting, Cunningham 
preached, those who gave to the poor would be repaid by the Lord. 6 

About the time of the season reorganizational meeting for the 1841-1842 winter, 
a long commentary in the American Beacon appeared reiterating the good works of the 
society and urging citizens to support the association in its upcoming activities on behalf 
of the poor. The anonymous writer argued that the most useful undertaking that an 
individual could perform was to relieve human distress. The author explained that when 
virtuous and elevated philanthropists reviewed what they had performed in their lives, 
those who garnered the greatest pleasure were those alleviators of human misery. Even 
in hours of sadness, they could reflect upon the deeds that sprang "up before the mind, 
like a green and refreshing oasis, in a waste and weary land." 7 

One of the highest priorities for the Humane Society was extending relief to the 
"widowed friendless mother" who required assistance during the harsh winter months. 
Widows were described as barely surviving during the summer, but during the inclement 
winter their needs were greater and requisite earnings harder to find. The society 



ibid., 22 December 1840. Cunningham was correct on the fragility of wealth for most 
during this period. In trying to explain the difficulty of defining the middle class, Paul 
Boyer contends that many who considered themselves middle class were very near the 
laboring class. There was no assurance as to middle-class respectability, he argued, for 
many like the young white-collar clerk could just as easily fall back to the laboring class 
with some financial misfortune, illness, or succumbing to temptation as he is to steadily 
rise up the socio-economic ladder; Urban Masses and Moral Order, 60-61. 

American Beacon, 12 December 1841. 



66 

furnished needed relief that supplemented what little the city doled out. The Beacon 
observer hoped that the liberality of the people would move them to support the men 
pledged to collect contributions, being assured that the society "invites the confidence of 
the public, and affords a channel for their charity, free of objection, and certain of 
reaching worthy recipients." 8 

This issue of the quality of the recipients of charity and philanthropy would 
plague benevolent endeavors throughout the antebellum period. Prior to the winter of 
1 849, a declaration was made by "C" in the Daily Southern Argus for an improved and 
systematic plan for the distribution of aid to Norfolk's poor because of "great evils and 
unsatisfactory results" in past years. There was an "uncertainty as to the worthiness of 
the recipient; [an] inability on the part of the benefactor to trace the blessing of his charity 
in the physical or moral improvement of the individual; there is, oftentimes, the actual 

encouragement of idleness, vagrancy, drunkenness indiscriminate alms-giving is far 

more productive of evil than good." These actions, it was asserted, caused many 
Christian philanthropists to stop giving to the relief of the poor. The solution was to 
develop a system that would both provide physical assistance and elevate the moral 
health of those who were needy and worthy recipients. 9 

Using the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP) 
as a guide, the first step according to "C" was the formation of a new association with a 
suggested name of The Norfolk Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the 
Poor to be based upon three fundamental principles inspired by the New York AICP. 



8 ibid. 



9 Daily Southern Argus, 27 November 1 848. 



67 

The first principle was the sound and judicious discrimination in affording relief, 
meaning that no persons would receive aid without "an intimate acquaintance with their 
character, history, and habits of life." It further meant that the association would provide 
only necessary items of food, fuel, and clothing, rather than money, which could be 
abused (e.g. to buy alcohol), to give assistance that would be inferior to what could be 
acquired by labor, to refrain from giving to those who would not exhibit improvement 
because of the aid provided, and "never, under any circumstances to give to the street 
beggar or vagrant." The second principle was that aid should be donated through a 
systematic unity of action so that assistance could be provided by numerous sources, 
thoroughly organized and working in concert, thus spreading out the division of labor to 
many. The last fundamental principle was that aid would be provided via personal 
intercourse with the poor at their homes. This would be done by dividing the city into 
districts and appointing visitors who interviewed those requesting assistance and 
provided written reports on those applying and receiving aid to the solicitors and 
managers. "C" emphasized that the system had been tried with success in other cities. 10 



ibid. When the New York AICP was established in 1843 middle-class bankers, 
professionals, and merchants developed a system whereby visitors went out into assigned 
districts to call on the poor and provide financial assistance to some — usually those few 
seen as destitute for reasons beyond their control such as the loss of the breadwinner— 
and counsel and instruct the morally bankrupt poor to improve their character, alter their 
detrimental vice-ridden daily habits, and instill in them such values and habits as 
industry, thrift, and sobriety. These visitors also sent back reports to a main office so that 
these individuals could not receive assistance from other groups. Paul Boyer writes that 
with this systematic rational approach "the AICP represented an institutional mechanism 
for transmitting the values of the city's middle and upper strata downward into the ranks 
of the poor." By 1860, the New York AICP had divided the city into 337 sections and 
visitors assigned to each. Similarly, in the early 1850s the Philadelphia Union 
Benevolent Association had divided the city into districts and sent out 5,000 volunteers to 
conduct a census of each poor family in the city; Urban Masses and Moral Order in 
America, 86-94. John W. Quist explains that members of the Female Benevolent Society 






68 

The next month Samuel T. Sawyer, the editor of the Daily Southern Argus, 
commented on the plight of the poor and this new plan being contemplated to assist them. 
He wrote that the proudest cities and societies provided services to its less fortunate 
citizens by some private or public venture. Implying a worthiness in those the society 
aimed to help, he further insisted that the situation continued year after year as vice and 
intemperance were inflicted upon "our innocent mothers and helpless children." Less 
subtle was his assertion that one of merits to this reorganizational plan was that the 
association would provide for the virtuous poor (his italics), though it would sometimes 
be difficult to escape the deceptions of the impostor. He did emphasize that even this 
occasional deception was better than for any individual of merit to suffer on account of a 
lack of food, shelter, and clothing. Sawyer emphasized that another positive element was 
that the association was not bound by any single religious denomination, but was "as 
broad and bounding as charity itself."" 

The Argus editor continued by asserting that the association had been formed 
under favorable conditions with earnestness, a kind spirit, and judicious officers with 
only the best motives to discharge their duties. The real question, he asked, was if and 



in Tuscaloosa that existed from 1853 to 1867 collected money from the middle-class and 
elite women there, using it to buy goods and giving them out to the "worthy poor" of the 
community. Members would evaluate those needing assistance and would later follow 
up on their situation. Quist points out that organizations like this existed in the North and 
South through the antebellum period; Restless Visionaries, 81-86. See also Sven 
Beckert, The Monied Metropolis, 75-77; Pease and Pease, Web of Progress, 146-52; 
Doyle, The Social Order of a Frontier Community, 156-93; Blumin, Emergence of the 
Middle Class, 192-206. 

11 Daily Southern Argus, 5 December 1848. The Catholics of Norfolk did establish their 
own beneficial and charitable association called the St Patrick's Society in January 1852. 
It stressed the duties of man as required by religion, morality, and humanity; Burton, 
History of Norfolk, 257. 



69 

how the citizens of Norfolk would respond to the call to assist these virtuous poor— not 
only with their encouragement, but also with their monetary contributions. Explaining 
the benefits of charity to the recipient, the benefactor, and the larger society Sawyer — in 
true booster fashion — answered in the affirmative proclaiming that "every act of 
generous philanthropy, while it tends to promote the happiness of others, likewise 
contributes to the advantage, and ennobles the person who bestows — yields an 
inestimable consciousness of internal excellence and dignity, and is the best proof of 
public spirit and patriotic views." 

As a result of society members' dissatisfaction with the current system and 
dwindling public contributions, and no doubt aided by the multitude of letters and 
editorials in local newspapers, the Norfolk Humane Society was in fact reborn in 1 848 as 
the Norfolk Humane Association for the Relief and Improvement of the Poor. Complete 
with a new constitution and by-laws, its members upheld the focus on helping only the 
virtuous, industrious poor. For purposes of soliciting more contributions, managers 
stressed to the public that this association would replace the old society and that its 
purposes and methods would be more comprehensive. The managers of the association 
divided the city into twelve wards and assigned a committee of solicitors and visitors. 
Solicitors asked for contributions from individuals in their respective wards. Visitors 
examined the needs and circumstances of the poor in their districts, provided the 
necessary relief, and presented monthly reports to the managers. Another change was that 
the new system of assistance would not be confined to the winter months alone, but 
would continue throughout the year. For their part those wishing assistance had to apply 



1 Daily Southern Argus, 5 December 1 848. 



70 

to the visitor of their ward for aid. The visitor then interviewed the applicants at their 
homes to determine if aid could and should be provided. Only with a written report by 
the visitor could relief be provided in the form of food, clothing, wood for fuel, and dry 
goods. 13 

At the regular meeting of the Board of Managers in January 1849 the 
organization's financial difficulties occupied the agenda. There was a belief that some 
solicitors had not collected money for the support of the poor. Moreover, distributions 
had already exceeded half the funds collected and it was still early in the winter season. 
In an effort to rally support and raise more money, the association called on the citizens 
of Norfolk with pleas in the newspapers to aid the society in its efforts. Editors like 
Samuel T. Sawyer wrote columns explaining that during these harsh winter months when 
the poor and destitute suffer the most because of a lack of the common comforts of life, 
the community, known for its benevolent and charitable liberality, was generally ignorant 
of the conditions of poverty in Norfolk. When made aware of the situation, however, the 
citizens of the city would rally to relieve the suffering and necessities of the poor. 14 

Despite such public entreaties the situation would only get worse, however, as 
outlays exceeded contributions by a significant margin over the next two years. At the 
end of January 1849 only fifty cents remained from the $800 collected during the 
previous two months and the winter season was just beginning. In March 1 850 the 
association required a sum of $600 to meet its debts. Even with these difficulties, 
however, the society continued to assist many individuals. In December 1848 and 



13 ibid.; Forrest, The Norfolk Directory, For 1851-1852, 96-97. 
Daily Southern Argus, 9, 10 January 1849. 



71 

January 1849 the visitors granted relief to 281 families totaling 599 persons and 
distributed 200 cords of wood, groceries valued at $143, along with dry goods, clothing, 
and shoes. In one ward alone during the winter of 1850 the society provided relief to 113 
families comprising 3 1 7 individuals with contributions of 250 cords of wood and 36 
orders for groceries. 

By the end of 1850 the association's financial health was declining to the point 
that one of the founding principles of the reconstituted association from two years prior 
had been abandoned. The Humane Association's goal now became the provision of 
assistance only during the winter season, rather than year-round. Moreover, managers 
reemphasized the temporary nature of assistance in a public notice asking for 
contributions, explaining that "The design of the Association is not to support the poor of 
the city, but only to give the relief and assistance from time to time. Persons who have 
no means of subsistence, and no near prospect of better circumstances, must be entrusted 
to the care of their friends and relatives, or be sent to the Alms House." The city 
remained divided into districts each with its own visitor and solicitor to ensure that the 
evaluation of those desiring aid did not overwhelm the process. 

Throughout the remaining antebellum years the Humane Association of Norfolk 
would operate on the same principles and methods: hibernating, as it were, during the 
spring and summer months and reviving when the cold winds blew into the city. During 
the winter leaders continually asked for contributions through the efforts of solicitors and 
newspaper articles and notices. The society also held benefits to raise funds that include 



15 ibid., 21 February 1849, 16 March 1850. 



16 ibid., 14, 18 December 1850. 



72 

panorama shows and musical concerts. The general tone of giving stressed not only what 
it would do for the needy, but also what contributing to the society could do for the donor 
as it was an opportunity to bring honor to the benefactor and indulge in "all the nobler 
attributes of our nature." 17 

In terms of practical operations the reorganized Norfolk Humane Association for 
the Relief and Improvement of the Poor exemplified middle-class ideas of organization, 
frugality, and efficiency. Described as improved, systematic, sound, and judicious, the 
rationalization of the organization encompassed a board of directors (managers), a 
number of committees to carry out certain functions like the purchasing and distribution 
of wood (often two separate committees), the division of the city into wards, and 
assigning visitors and solicitors, each with his own task, to each district. There was no 
randomness to this endeavor— it was calculated for maximum efficiency and assistance 
was doled out relative to the needs of the individual or family as determined by the 
visitor. Application by an individual in need demonstrated to the visitor an initiative in 
desiring to better themselves by seeking temporary assistance. The two-step process of 
deciding on provision of aid— the initial visitor report and subsequent evaluation by the 
Board of Managers— ensured that the visitor had not made an unwise decision, such as 
granting assistance to one who was unworthy, but who tricked the visitor. Also, the 
written reports on each applicant and subsequent monthly reports on recipients by the 
visitors guaranteed that individuals and families were using the assistance wisely, that 
they were continuing to live appropriately (e.g. not drinking liquor), and that Humane 



17 



ibid., 8 December 1851, 20, 22, 24 December 1853, 16 January 1854 11 13 16 
December 1854, 21, 24, 26 January 1856. 






73 

Society aid continued to match the relative needs of the family. Assistance in the form of 
wood, food, and clothing rather than actual money guarded against wastefulness or 
inappropriate purchases. These characteristics of the reorganized Humane Association 
guaranteed, at least on paper, that only the virtuous, industrious poor receive aid. 

To be sure, underlying this framework for giving was a certain degree of social 
control. As the urban society was advancing, and concomitantly producing increasing 
numbers of poor, distressed, and needy, the middle class and its associations sought to 
bring order, stability, and control to this changing urban landscape. The benevolent 
associations played their parts in this process as well. The Norfolk Humane Society 
reorganized the methods by which assistance was provided so that literally there were 
more controls over who received what. More importantly, the strict adherence to 
providing assistance to the worthy poor implicitly (or perhaps explicitly) sent a message 
to the unworthy beggars and vagrants that they would not be given a free ride. 18 

Another key element of middle-class values that can be seen in the Humane 
Society was that during the reorganization its name was changed to the Norfolk Humane 
Association for the Relief and Improvement of the Poor. The term "relief explains that 
assistance was only a temporary measure, with those requiring more banished out of 
mainstream society to the almshouse. Including "improvement" specifically highlights 



18 

For other studies relating the issue of social control to middle-class institutions see 
David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum; Gilkeson, Middle-Class Providence; 
Johnson, A Shopkeeper 's Millennium; Michael Katz, The Irony of Early School Reform: 
Educational Innovation in Mid-Nineteenth Century Massachusetts (Cambridge, 
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1968); Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: 
Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois 
Press, 1963); 36-60; Rowland T. Berthoff, An Unsettled People: Social Order and 
Disorder in American History (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 254-74, 426-43. 



74 

the society's intention that aid would be a temporary helping hand enabling the recipients 
to improve themselves and their situation in order that they could make it on their own. 
In the end improvement would assist them and by extension the community as a whole, 
thus creating a better citizen. 

Essential to the middle-class ideology was the belief that helping and improving 
others enhanced the life of the donors as well. As exemplified in numerous editorials and 
letters, those who gave to the relief of the suffering poor of Norfolk felt themselves closer 
to God than those who did not. Giving donations offered the benefactor identifiable 
moments of their lives where they elevated the condition of someone in their community, 
and by extension their own condition as well. Present in this context was a not-so-subtle 
implication that the most virtuous individuals in the community donated to benevolent 
causes and that the final reward would be greater for those who gave rather than those 
who did not. There were many entreaties in local newspapers for individuals not to spend 
their extra monies on frivolous luxuries, but to give to philanthropic causes. The 
members of the Humane Association, especially those visitors and solicitors who were 
most directly responsible for the provision of assistance, were saluted as being among the 
most virtuous citizens in the community. Additionally, there was a belief that the 
donation process reflected on the city as a whole in that Norfolk's citizens were portrayed 
as benevolent individuals who would give when made aware of the problems of their 
community. Tying in to the booster ethos of the time it was argued that the proudest 
cities provided for the less fortunate of their citizenry by some public or private means. 

While Norfolk's men directed good works with the Humane Association, the 
women of the city developed their own organizations devoted to helping the destitute. 






75 

Established in 181 1 the Dorcas Society dedicated itself to alleviating the needs of the 
"suffering poor" during the winter months and in times of crisis. Consisting of Norfolk's 
"charitable ladies," many the wives of civic leaders and from all religious denominations, 
its members visited the homes of the afflicted and suffering, often weekly, to supply their 
needs. They provided clean clothing (frequently what they had made themselves), food, 
medical assistance, and religious ministerings. The latter was of the utmost importance 
to the society as the group attempted to provide temporal comfort as well as endeavoring 
to "impress upon the minds of the poor the necessity of religion, and to put their trust and 
confidence in God." Further echoing the improvement goal of their work, members 
reported that they hoped those being assisted would find their way to God and 
subsequently speak of their positive experience with the "thoughtless and impenitent." 

Associationalism for the women of Norfolk was not limited to the Dorcas Society, 
however. They became involved in church auxiliaries that met regularly and raised 
monies for a variety of congregational and community-related causes. Working as 
individual church auxiliaries or in concert with other churches and even denominations, 
the chief method of fund raising was the fair and feast. The goals of these fairs ranged 
from church renovations or new sanctuaries to charitable endeavors such as aiding the 



19 Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 161-2. Similar to the Humane 
Association support came from the newspapers. Abram F. Leonard, editor of the Daily 
Southern Argus wrote that contributions of money, fabric, and old clothes would be 
helpful to assist the society's endeavors; Argus, 12 November 1851, 3, 12 January 1856. 
Monetary gifts of any size were always appreciated such as when a gift of fifty dollars 
was anonymously donated to the Dorcas Society in October 1851. The organization 
placed a notice in a local newspaper gratefully acknowledging the gift and praying that 
the donor be abundantly blessed; Argus, 1 5 October 1851. 



76 

poor and destitute, orphan asylums, and the local voluntary militia companies like the 
Norfolk Light Artillery Blues. 20 

These Ladies Fair events included simple occasions where the auxiliaries sold 
baked goods, foodstuffs, and "useful and handsome articles" as well as grand celebrations 
like that hosted by the Ladies of the Freemason Street Baptist Church in April 1850. The 
auxiliary presented the Norfolk Sacred Musical Society that conducted a concert at 
Mechanics' Hall where they performed works by Mozart and Hayden, along with various 
hymns and religious anthems. 21 That same month the ladies of St. Patrick's Church held 
a Catholic Fair, which Daily Southern Argus editor Samuel T. Sawyer described as "one 
of the most brilliant and magnificent fairs ever held in this city." He proclaimed that 
never before had he seen such a grand gathering of people enjoy such a wide variety of 
food, fabrics, and other articles. A letter to the editor from "Philo" commented on how 
successful the fair was and encouraged citizens to participate. General Winfield Scott 
even visited the fair while on a visit to Norfolk. 22 



20 



American Beacon, 13, 22 June 1841, 5, 6 February, 26 April 1847; Daily Southern 
Argus, 6, 9, 10 January, 10 April 1849, 27 June 1851, 22 October 1852. With respect to 
the benefit for the NLA Blues held in the spring of 1 844, the Beacon 's editor William E. 
Cunningham commented that the collection of articles included some beautiful items 
imported from Europe expressly for the fair, which ran for ten days, a long time relative 
to other fairs; American Beacon, 19 April 1844. 

Daily Southern Argus, 1 April 1850. 

ibid., 24, 25 April 1 850. These fairs could be extremely successful, such as when the 
Ladies and Friends of the Methodist Protestant Church held a fair at the Mechanics' Hall 
offering the usual "variety of useful and fancy articles." The fair, organized to raise 
money for a new church, reported over $ 1 ,000 in profits; Daily Southern Argus 24 May 
1854, 2 June 1854. 






77 

These occasions helped to create a sense of community among the women's 
auxiliaries as different churches and even different denominations would assist each other 
in organizing a fair. During the summer of 1 842 the Ladies of the Catholic Church 
hosted a fair to help with costs incurred in erecting a new sanctuary. On this occasion 
women from all over Norfolk helped by "preparing useful and handsome articles" for 
sale at the fair. American Beacon editor William E. Cunningham wrote that "The noble 
and holy object, to which the proceeds of the skill, taste, and industry of the fair ladies 
who are engaged in the work are to be devoted, furnishes a guarantee that their labors 
will not go unrewarded." 23 The language used to describe these women and their 
benevolent activities exemplifies how the middle-class belief systems could bind together 
persons of different denominations and faiths. Perhaps more importantly the benevolent 
Dorcas Society and church-oriented ladies' auxiliaries provided an avenue by which 
antebellum women could be active in the public sphere of society. 24 

The fairs also created a larger sense of community within the city as a whole. 
When the Ladies of the Freemason Street Baptist Church hosted a festival, the 



23 American Beacon, 20 June 1 842. 



A number of studies examine the roles women played in associations and how these 
organizations expanded the role they could and would play throughout the nineteenth into 
the twentieth century. For example see Nancy A. Hewitt, Women 's Activism and Social 
Change: Rochester, New York, 1822-1872 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 
1 984); Jed Dannenbaum, Drink and Disorder: Temperance Reform in Cincinnati from 
the Washingtonian Revival to the WCTU (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 
180-233; Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, 
and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1990); Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873- 
1900 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981); Mary P. Ryan, Women in Public: 
Between Banners and Ballots, 1825-1880 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 
1990). 



78 

advertisement stressed not only the edible delicacies that would be provided, but also the 
opportunity for patrons to "regale themselves with an hour or two of delightful sociability 
with the fairer portion of our population." Southern Argus editor Samuel T. Sawyer 
further noted that "Those who would enjoy a feast of spirit and a flow of soul, should 
attend this entertainment, where they will not only be served with all the delicacies in the 
edible line of the hands of the "fairer portion of our population," but regale themselves 
with an hour of two of delightful sociability." 25 Certainly these commentaries are pointed 
toward men stressing the opportunity to hobnob with the women organizing and 
attending the fairs. They also suggest, however, a larger context of socialization whereby 
likeminded members of the community with similar beliefs and socio-economic levels 
could fraternize, inculcate new residents, make business contacts, and perhaps even 
cultivate romantic endeavors. Ultimately, these ladies' organizations engendered a sense 
of community between their own groups, but also within the larger urban environment. 

Fairs and festivals were continually being held for various local benevolent 
institutions. Among the most popular that received aid from local women's organizations 
were the various orphan asylums of Norfolk. During the antebellum years these included 
the Norfolk Female Orphan Asylum, the St. Mary's Catholic Orphan Asylum, and the 
Jackson Female Orphan Asylum. Benefits continually sponsored to raise money for 
these asylums included dramatic performances, musical events, pleasure excursions, and 
fairs conducted by the ladies' auxiliaries of Norfolk's churches as well as female schools 



" Daily Southern Argus, 1 April 1850. 



79 

and seminaries. The Female Orphan Asylum organized a benefit in 1 847 to repair its 
deteriorating building. The cost was estimated at $4,000 and to raise this money the 
ladies of the different religious denominations combined to hold a Union Fair. They sold 
foodstuffs, needle work, and the standard "useful and fashionable commodities for house 
keeping." An anonymous letter writer commended the ladies for their "patient industry 
and generous devotion of time, labor, and money." 27 

Like the Humane Association, providing assistance for orphans reflected middle- 
class values. Contributing to the Orphan Asylum was portrayed in a context of these 
children being innocent victims of circumstances that left them without parents and 
stressed how giving to them was a noble act of charity by those who had been more 
blessed by Providence. Inextricably tied in with this were ideals of improving the 
children through the inculcation of industry and moral and religious virtues. Echoing 
these sentiments in 1 840, American Beacon editor William E. Cunningham wrote that to 
give the necessary assistance to the innocent children was a fine action, but that "to 
bestow it, as a reward, in some measure, of industry, taste and skill, is better." 28 
Similarly, in March 1 842 Cunningham, in calling for donations to the asylum, wrote that 
"There could scarcely be devised a more effectual plan for relieving the wants of the 



Burton, History of Norfolk, 223-6. A fair in 1855 to benefit St. Mary's even published 
a corresponding newspaper (one per day of the six-day event) entitled The Fair Offering 
devoted to literature, instruction, and amusement; Daily Southern Argus, 16 May 1855. 
See fairs announced in American Beacon, 22 March, 1839, 3, 4 May 1841, 6, 28 May 
1842, 2 September 1846, 5, 9, 13, 16 April 1847; Daily Southern Argus, 20 October 
1853, 7 January, 9, 15, 16 November 1854. 

7 American Beacon, 27 January, 22 March 1847. 

28 

' American Beacon, 6, 8 May 1840; Daily Southern Argus, 9 November 1854. 



80 

poor, and encouraging the growth of virtue in that class. To instill in [the orphan's] soul 
the purity of principle, moral and religious, and imbue its mind with the elevation of 
knowledge ... are among the most privileged labors of the philanthropic." 

In a letter to the American Beacon in April 1 847, an individual identified as "Q" 
further exemplified the improvement ideology when suggesting how the Orphan Asylum 
could be altered in such a way that would aid the institution and the children living there. 
"Q" wrote that a large lot within the city could be purchased and a new building erected. 
The lot also had enough space to cultivate a garden of vegetables and flowers that older 
orphans could work themselves. This would enable the institution to support itself and 
perhaps even be able to accept more orphans to house and educate. "Q" pointed out that 
a similar plan was believed to have been adopted by the new asylum in Richmond. 

Simply providing a place for orphans to be raised was not enough, however. 
Without parents the child would be at risk of becoming intemperate, lazy, morally 
bankrupt, and without religion — in short a danger to society. The orphan asylums, 
however, would take the place of the departed parents and teach the children the 
conventions of the day. They would mold their charges into an industrious, virtuous, 
useful, and intelligent member of society. Similarly, the institution itself was seen in the 
context of improvement as "Q's" plan for buying a larger lot, building new buildings and 
developing a garden would make it self-sufficient and able to serve more children. 



American Beacon, 5 March 1842. For other appeals see American Beacon, 6 May 
1846. 

30 ibid., 12 April 1847. 

These operations of the orphan asylum reflected the changing nature and role of 
asylums from the colonial to the antebellum period. David J. Rothman argues that during 



81 

As the various women's auxiliaries and the Humane Society provided benevolent 
aid to the worthy poor and suffering of Norfolk for most of the antebellum years, one of 
the most enduring of Norfolk's benevolent associations was organized late in this period 
during one of the darkest times in the city's history. In the summer of 1855 Norfolk 
suffered a terrible yellow fever epidemic that was so overwhelming it required citizens to 
ban together in organizations to relieve the suffering of their fellow residents. From June 
until October nearly ten thousand people, about two-thirds of the population, contracted 
the disease and more than two thousand perished. 



the Jacksonian period the family model of the colonial era was done away with in favor 
of institutions such as asylums, penitentiaries, and orphanages. These institutions shared 
many similarities in physical structure and program design. In all, the physical structure 
changed from a home-like dwelling to a large, spartan, and functional building. The 
rehabilitation program developed along a model comprising a strict daily routine, rigid 
rules and regulations, respect for authority, and steady discipline that would transform 
inmates' character. Rothman explains that these institutions not only existed to reform 
the "inmates," but to serve as a model for a well-ordered republican society. The various 
rehabilitative programs were strikingly similar with only a few alterations. For the 
criminal deviant was added hard labor duties, often harsh discipline, and nearly total 
isolation from the society (which could not be trusted) and other corrupting inmates. In 
the case of insanity, the asylum's social organization created a well-ordered institution 
with a simple and fixed routine to alleviate the distress seen as causing a physical ailment 
in the brain. Incorporating order, discipline, and an exacting routine able-bodied inmates 
of the almshouse would be required to do work and thus be taught the virtue of labor 
making them diligent, hardworking citizens. The children in the orphanages and houses 
of refuge were seen as current and potential deviants. These institutions would provide 
shelter and reform using rehabilitation, discipline, and teaching obedience to make them 
respectable citizens; Discovery of the Asylum, 3-14, 30-35, 56-84, 103-8, 133—42, 180- 
4, 206-24. 

Many works concerning the yellow fever epidemic have been published including 
David Goldfield, "Disease and Urban Image: Yellow Fever in Norfolk, 1855," Virginia 
Cavalcade 23 (Autumn 1973): 34—41; Charles A. Nicholson, "The Tragic Summer of 
1 855 at Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia," Genealogical Society of Tidewater, Virginia 
Bulletin 10 (December 1979): 171-88. For contemporary accounts see George D. 
Armstrong, The Summer of the Pestilence: A History of the Ravages of the Yellow Fever 
in Norfolk, Virginia, A.D. 1855 3d ed. (Virginia Beach, Virginia: W. S. Dawson & Co., 
1994); William S. Forrest, The Great Pestilence in Virginia: Being an Historical 






82 

Informally established in August 1855, but formally reorganized in September 
with a constitution and bylaws, the Howard Association was the main organization 
established to alleviate the suffering. 33 It turned Norfolk's largest hotel into a hospital, 
set up other medical facilities in buildings at the Julappi Race Course on Lambert's Point 
several miles from the city, distributed vast amounts of monies (about $160,000) and 
supplies sent from all over the country, and built another orphan asylum to house children 
who lost parents in the epidemic. The association also paid for the burial of about 2,300 
individuals who died (including its first president William B. Ferguson) and the 
following winter it distributed food and fuel relief to about five hundred families. 34 



Account of the Origin, General Character, and Ravages of the Yellow Fever in Norfolk 
and Portsmouth in 1855; Together with Sketches of Some of the Victims (Philadelphia: J. 
B. Lippincott, 1856); and Norfolk (Va.) Committee to Investigate the Cause and Origin 
of the Yellow Fever of 1 855, Report on the Origin of the Yellow Fever in Norfolk During 
the Summer of 1855, made to City Councils by a Committee of Physicians (Richmond: 
Ritchie and Dunnavant, 1857). 

33 

Named after British social reformer John Howard (1726-1790) these associations 
developed in the first half of the nineteenth century in most major cities around the 
country such as Boston (established in 1812), Washington, D.C. (1825), New Orleans 
(1837), New York (1843), and Philadelphia (1858), concerning themselves with issues 
related to prison reform, crime, and especially public health. See Sidney Lee, ed., 
Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 28 (New York: MacMillan and Co., 1891), 44- 
48; Flora B. Hildreth, "The Howard Association of New Orleans, 1837-1878" (Ph D 
diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1975), esp. 48-69; Goldfield, Urban Growth 
in the Age of Sectionalism, 162-3. 

34 Report of the Howard Association of Norfolk, Va., to all Contributors Who Gave their 
Valuable Aid in Behalf of the Sufferers from Epidemic Yellow Fever During the Summer 
of 18)5 (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Inquirer, 1857); Nicholson, "The Tragic Summer of 
1855," 172; Edward Wilson James, ed., The Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary 
vol. 5 (Baltimore: The Friedenwald Company, 1904), 24-25; Daily Southern Argus, 26 
October 1855; Tazewell, Vignettes from the Shadows, 46; Parramore, Stewart, and 
Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 176-80, 190. 



83 

After the crisis had passed, the Howard Association moved forward becoming a 
year-round benevolent society attending to the needs of the poor by using the remaining 
funds left over from the epidemic contributions (about $67,000). Out of this sum, the 
association's officers invested $50,000 whose interest enabled the organization to pursue 
its charitable endeavors well into the twentieth century. The association used the 
remaining $17,000 to maintain the Howard Asylum that funded the education of children 
orphaned by the epidemic. The asylum continued until 1861 when expenses became 
prohibitive and the remaining twenty-nine inmates (as they were often referred to) were 
turned over the Norfolk Female Asylum. The Howard Association contracted to support 
the orphans in the asylum until they were eighteen years old (or adopted) with reportedly 
about $2,500 per year initially in monetary support. 35 

Even though the Howard Association directed many good works during the 
yellow fever epidemic, some observers believed that the organization did not receive its 
fair recognition. In an early 1 856 letter to the Daily Southern Argus an individual 
identified as "Refugee" wrote that the association had been slighted and not appreciated 
for its work helping others during the epidemic, especially in light of the public praise 
that had been heaped on others. "Refugee," undoubtedly someone who received aid, 
wrote that the group deserved an ovation of some kind, but that the association had been 
subjected to the contemptible taunts and jeers and sneers by the public, even by "that very 
respectable body of citizens, who have usually had the management of all places of trust 



- Except for funds from private sources, the Howard Association appropriation would be 
the only monies received by the Norfolk Female Orphan asylum during the war years, 
Tazewell, Vignettes from the Shadows, 46; Burton, History of Norfolk, 223-4; see also 
Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism, 162-3. 



84 

in our city." Some of the refugees assisted by the organization, however, believed that 
the association was "miserably incompetent to transact its peculiar duties" in aiding the 
suffering, displaced, and poor. 

The Howard Association did obtain positive notice not long afterwards when the 
association's orphans attended St. Paul's Church. The seventy-eight boys and girls were 
reported to be neatly dressed, appeared happy and contented, and among them were 
"many very interesting and beautiful children." Through the use of donations, including 
funds from other cities, the organization obtained a dwelling and a matron to oversee the 
children. Everything had been done to relieve their daily needs and alleviate the grief 
connected with the losses of their parents. 37 In May of that year another newspaper 
reported that fifty Howard Association orphans were attending St. Paul's Church. As 
before the children were described as healthy and tidily groomed and dressed. They were 
also said to exhibit "orderly and correct behavior . . . [evincing] the good effects of the 

TO 

parental care bestowed upon them." 



36 Daily Southern Argus, 18 January 1856. "Refugee" saluted the Howard Association in 
other newspaper editions for their good and heroic works during the yellow fever 
epidemic, see Weekly Southern Argus, 24 January 1856. Rev. George D. Armstrong also 
recognized the good works of the Howard Association for his Presbyterian Church in his 
history of yellow fever epidemic. He wrote that the "members of the Howard 
Association, left nothing undone which they could do for us;" Armstrong, The Great 
Pestilence, 52. 

Daily Southern Argus, 29 January 1856. Similarly, Rev. George D. Armstrong wrote 
that one day in his service there were sixty orphans under the care of the Howard 
Association ranging in age from two to fourteen years old. To describe the horror these 
children endured he explained that some of the orphans were found in their families' 
homes in the presence of the dead bodies of remaining parents, Armstrong, The Summer 
of Pestilence, 59-60. 

Daily Southern Argus, 6 May 1 856. 



85 

The Howard Association was important because it was one of the few, if not only, 
charities to dispense assistance without any preconceived notions concerning the 
worthiness of the recipients as it doled out fuel and food to about five hundred families 
during the winter of 1855-1856. Perhaps this could be explained by the fact that the 
yellow fever was so devastating, striking Norfolk residents of all backgrounds, wealth, 
and occupations, that aid simply could not be held back from those normally considered 
unworthy. Given the magnitude of the tragedy, everyone was worthy at this particular 
time. 

It is possible that some of the criticism directed toward the Howard Association 
came from those who believed that assistance provided to the sick and refugees of the 
epidemic should have been more selective, perhaps limiting aid given to the infected 
poor, thus allowing for more resources to be given to the perceived better elements of the 
community. Middle-class ideals did emerge with respect to the Howard Association. 
Recall that the association got some measure of positive recognition when the children 
were taken to church, a middle-class behavior itself that promoted piety. Moreover, just 
as with the Orphan Asylums, there was an emphasis on the children possessing a robust 
and neat demeanor. The implication being that if they attended church in a disheveled, 

ill-mannered, or slovenly appearance then the association's orphanage had failed. 

************ 



39 Indeed, one resident wrote that the fever had taken physicians, blacks, and noted that 
"by degrees some of the most enterprising of the Norfolk merchants are dropping." He 
further observed that "nearly every person you see at the post office now seem[s] to have 
had the fever. The white people of Norfolk seem to be at present a regular set of invalids 
. . . Captain Ferris is very sick this morning and he tells me he has ordered his coffin." 
See letter from John Shanks to Debree Taylor, 20 September 1855, Virginia Historical 
Society. 



86 

Norfolk's citizens supported a benevolent association network during the two 
decades prior to the Civil War. From the various incarnations of the Humane Association 
to the Dorcas Society to the Howard Association, these organizations provided physical 
assistance to the needy of Norfolk. They did so, however, generally in a context of 
middle-class beliefs, stressing not only the improvement of the physical well-being of the 
individual, but also the moral and spiritual elevation of the person's character. Moreover, 
with the exception of the Howard Association, assistance was provided only to those 
worthy poor and needy who upheld the middle-class values of industry, thrift, sobriety, 
and piety. Those who were lazy or possessed a questionable work ethic, were drunkards 
and spendthrifts, or lacking piety were seen as not fit to receive aid. Civic boosters 
viewed benevolent giving as a way to elevate the status of the city in concert with the 
elevation of the needy. By providing a temporary helping hand, the worthy poor, given 
the opportunity, would subsequently become productive members of society and 
contribute to the development of the community. For those volunteering their time to 
benevolent societies or making contributions, these efforts not only elevated their feelings 
of self-worth, they reinforced one's character and improved one's chances for an 
improved reward in Heaven. 



CHAPTER 4 
IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATIONS IN ANTEBELLUM NORFOLK 



The benevolent associations of Norfolk provided physical assistance to the city's 
worthy poor and also attempted to instill or elevate middle-class values. Meanwhile 
other associations in Norfolk specifically had as their purpose the direct improvement of 
not necessarily the needy, but the larger population of the community. A variety of 
temperance, religious, intellectual, and business societies endeavored to promote their 
middle-class beliefs of industry, thrift, sobriety, and piety in the working class, young 
men arriving in the city open to temptation and vice, and intemperate fathers who injured 
their families with their battles with the bottle. Like the benevolent societies, these 
improvement associations not only elevated the condition of the individual, but advanced 
the status of the community as well. These organizations further bound the middle-class 
citizens of Norfolk with each other as well as connect them with like-minded persons in 
other cities and states in the South and even North. 

Throughout the antebellum United States the middle class developed reform 
associations as it sought to remake society. In Jacksonville, Illinois, the merchants, 
businessmen, and professionals had voluntarily accepted these values and felt it their duty 
to instill these ideals in those parts of society that had not accepted them. With this 
process, they believed, would come self-discipline and growth for the individual and 
social order for the community. The methods used by these reformers ranged from moral 
suasion and informational lectures to legal restrictions and ultimately to incarceration for 

87 



88 

those not adopting societal values, increasingly defined by members of the middle-class 
who were emerging as political, economic, and social leaders. 1 

With these voluntary organizations the middle class of Providence established for 
itself the high moral ground as they refined and promoted old values such as industry, 
frugality, and temperance along with new ideas such as abolitionism. In associations 
they sought to define the social and moral character of the society, mediate the social and 
cultural growth of the community, and develop institutions such as libraries, museums, 
and lyceums to serve these activities. John S. Gilkeson concluded that "voluntary 
associations were thus the agencies by which middle-class Americans disseminated their 
values and defended their class interests." 2 In the South, the Tuscaloosa Bible and tract 
societies as well as Sabbath schools were designed to instill the Protestant faith as well as 
moral values that would modify behaviors seen as pushing individuals into a condition of 



Doyle, Social Order of a Frontier Community, 193-5. Note that Doyle sometimes 
refers to the process as reforming the lower orders. The phrase lower orders is restrictive 
in that those targeted, as we shall see, often were young people (mostly men) who were 
coming of age (or just arriving) in the urban environment and subject to the temptations 
of the city that would drag them away from these values. They also could be working 
class heads of households ruining their homes and families with their abuse of liquor. 

2 Gilkeson, Middle-Class Providence, 9-1 0, 353. He contends that by the 1 850s the 
North celebrated itself as a middle-class society. By the eve of the Civil War middle- 
class reforms would take hold with the rise of abolitionism and prohibition being the law 
in thirteen northern states and territories. Public schools were established in many 
northern states where the diffusion of useful knowledge would not only be a form of self- 
improvement, but also would be connected to moral advancement. The Republican 
Party— the party of the middle class— claimed the presidency and locally shopkeepers 
and artisan producers replaced the elite professionals and merchants in public offices. 
Middle-class reformers also successfully redefined how leisure time was spent, moving 
away from the drinking, gambling, and bloodsports of the pre-industrial era to purposeful 
rational leisure activities that provided self improvement such as lyceums, libraries, 
musical performances, lectures, and joining associations such as the Young Men's ' 
Christian Association; Middle-Class Providence, 53-83, 87, 92. 



3 



89 

poverty (such as gambling, laziness, and drinking) by inculcating habits of industry, 
thrift, and temperance, thus creating a social cohesion and discipline in the community 

During the antebellum years temperance was perhaps the most important, or at 
least the most visible, middle-class value reformers sought to inculcate in the population. 4 
Drunkenness was seen as the root cause for many of society's ills such as crime, laziness, 
lack of piety, and vice. The intemperate did not work industriously (if at all), did not take 
care of their families (spending what little money they had on drink), and did not seek to 
improve themselves morally, spiritually, or intellectually. Instead of contributing to the 
advancement of the larger community they were a drain on society. Like most cities and 
towns of the antebellum period temperance organizations were established to remove this 
blight from the urban environment by moral suasion and even through legislative 
prohibition. Associations devoted to the temperance cause were crucial in promoting and 
instilling middle-class attitudes in the community, and perhaps more importantly, in 
defining what the middle class was and delineating its role in society. 3 In this regard, 
Norfolk would be no different from its neighbors around the country. 



3 Quist, Restless Visionaries, 13-21, 31—49, 65-69, 78-79. 

Studies examining temperance reform include Ian S. Tyrrell, Sobering Up: From 
Temperance to Prohibition in Antebellum America, 1800-1860 (Westport, Connecticut: 
Greenwood Press, 1979); Jed Dannenbaum, Drink and Disorder; W. J. Rorabaugh, The 
Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979). 

As Doyle succinctly describes, "The temperance crusade became more than a negation 
of the saloon and liquor; it was an affirmation of a larger middle-class ethos of 
domesticity, self-control, social mobility, and public order." He further contends that 
temperance, chief among other values, symbolically and practically gave civic leaders a 
clear, visible reason to expand public control over moral behavior and to instill their 
values in the lower classes that did not accept them; Social Order of a Frontier 






90 

By November 1841 reformers could attend a meeting of the Norfolk Total 
Abstinence Society (also called the Norfolk Temperance Society). A temperance society 
for young people also was organized by 1 846 under the name of the Young Men's 
Temperance Society (also referred to as the Norfolk Juvenile Total Abstinence Society). 
In the early 1840s, young teetotalers also could join the Virginia Guard, the first militia 
company organized in the state strictly adhering to the principles of abstinence. 6 

Norfolk also could boast of the first Virginia branch — and one of the earliest 
nationally — of the Sons of Temperance when the Washington Division was chartered in 
April 1 843, just months after the organization was established in New York. Although 
growth was slow over the next two years, in 1845 the five divisions in the state 
comprising 242 members held the first meeting in Richmond of the Grand Division of the 
Sons of Temperance of Virginia. The order expanded rapidly and by early 1 848 there 
were over one hundred divisions across the Commonwealth with over four thousand 



Community, 226. The Tuscaloosa Society for the Promotion of Temperance was 
established in April 1829. Anti-temperance groups believed that independence meant the 
freedom to do what one wanted to do, but temperance advocates believed that 
independence meant freedom from those deleterious things that prevented self- 
improvement. Temperance would provide a means for social control over the expanding 
population, many of whom were mobile young men with no personal, familial, or 
religious constraints and perceived to be more susceptible to the evils of drink.' 
Abstinence also merged with the ideals of the market economy as sober workers 
performed their jobs more efficiently and would invest their money in the community 
rather than wasting it on liquor. Evangelical Protestantism influenced temperance 
advocates in that a drunkard could not adequately ask and receive God's blessings. In 
addition, many saw temperance as a humanitarian endeavor that helped individuals 
overcome personal vices that not only could ruin their lives, but hurt society as well; 
Quist, Restless Visionaries, 158-63, 169-70, 204, 207, 229. 

George G. Stevens, Jr., "The Temperance Movement in Norfolk, Virginia, 1880-1916" 
(M.A. thesis, Old Dominion College, 1968), 5; American Beacon, 1 November 12 
December 1841, 16 March, 9 July 1842, 8 February, 19 May 1843, 7 April, 1846 1 
January 1847; Daily Southern Argus, 24, 25 January 1851. 



91 

members. The Washington Division comprised thirty-seven contributing members, while 
the other Norfolk branch, the Wesleyan Division formed in April 1 847, already had 
twenty-five members. By 1850 the membership for the Washington branch was seventy- 
three and that for the Wesleyan was thirty temperate souls. 7 

The Norfolk Total Abstinence Society met at least monthly, and usually more 
frequently. Often at these meetings lecturers and reformed drunkards from Virginia and 
elsewhere (such as Baltimore and New York) would address the society including such 
contemporary temperance advocates as John B. Gough, David Pollard, and John W. Bear, 
"The Black-Eye Blacksmith." Associations invited all persons "friendly or unfriendly to 
temperance" to attend these meetings, especially encouraging Norfolk's young men to 
attend. The local newspapers often reported that there were large and delighted 
audiences present or that the meetings were attended by a full audience of the "highest 
respectability." The Sons of Temperance and Total Abstinence Society held processions 
and celebrations, usually to commemorate anniversaries of various societies, laying of 



Thomas J. Evans, A Digest of the Resolutions and Decisions of the National Division of 
the Sons of Temperance of the United States and the Grand Division of Virginia 
Embracing A Brief History of the Origin, Progress and Present Attainment of the Order 
(Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1847), 2-7, 156-7; Minutes of the Grand Division of the Sons 
of Temperance of the State of Virginia, at their First Meeting, Held in the City of 
Richmond, January 29, 1845 (Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1845), 3; Minutes of the Grand 
Division of the Sons of Temperance, of the State of Virginia, at a Regular Quarterly 
Session Held in the Town of Alexandria Jan. 26, 1848 (Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1848), 
5; Minutes of the Grand Division of the Sons of Temperance, of the State of Virginia, at a 
Regularly Quarterly Session, Held in the Town of Lynchburg, April 17, 1850 (Richmond: 
MacFarlane and Ferguson, 1850), 156-7. 

8 American Beacon, 25 February, 2 March, 10 June, 5, 12 December 1842, 7 March 1843, 
25 March 1844, 16 January 1847; Daily Southern Argus, 2 March 1848. 

9 American Beacon, 25 February, 2 March 1842, 2, 4, 6, 10, 14 April 1846; Daily 
Southern Argus, 2 March 1848. 






92 

building cornerstones, and public holidays. 10 Signing up new members was a key 
element in the meeting rituals of the temperance organizations. In early 1847 the Total 
Abstinence Society conducted a series of meetings "crowded to suffocation" where the 
association had seventy-three people sign their names to the Total Abstinence Pledge. 

Norfolkians could read a temperance newspaper by May 1 847 when the weekly 
Virginia Temperance Advocate commenced publication. Established by local historian 
and member of the Total Abstinence Society William S. Forrest, he described it as a 
paper devoted to "temperance, morality, literature, health, etc." It received positive 
notices from newspapers like the Daily Southern Argus and initially was well received by 
the community at large. Forrest wrote that the subscription list "included many of the 
most intelligent citizens in town and country." 



William S. Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 235; 
Burton, History of Norfolk, 18; American Beacon, 17 May 1844. 

Both the Sons of Temperance and Total Abstinence Society (TAS) required a pledge of 
abstinence for membership. The Temperance Pledge of the TAS was: "We, the 
undersigned, do agree that we will not use intoxicating liquors as a beverage, not to 
traffic in them; that we will not provide them as an article of entertainment, or for persons 
of our employment, and that we will, in all suitable ways, discontinue their use 
throughout the community;" Stevens, "Temperance Movement in Norfolk," 5-6; 
American Beacon, 22, 25 February, 9, 11, 18, 26 March, 8 April 1847. 

1 9 

According to newspaper articles and advertisements the Virginia Temperance Advocate 
lasted until the autumn of 1848. In his review of Virginia newspapers, Lester J. Cappon 
could find no extant copies and his description came from Burton's, History of Norfolk. 
See Cappon, Virginia Newspapers, 1821-1935: A Bibliography with Historical 
Introduction and Notes (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., 1936), 142. 
Also it would not be mentioned in Forrest's, The Norfolk Directory, For 1851-1852. For 
mentions of the Virginia Temperance Advocate see Burton, History of Norfolk, 10; 
Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 232; Daily Southern 
Argus, 19 June, 25 September 1848. 



93 

The Norfolk temperance associations not only promoted abstinence within the 
confines of the city, they advanced the cause across Virginia through attendance at 
statewide gatherings. Norfolk itself hosted a Total Abstinence Convention in December 
1843 for all teetotalers as well as the general public. 13 The city hosted conventions of the 
Virginia Grand Division of the Sons of Temperance in 1845, 1851, and October 1860, in 
what would be its last meeting before the Civil War. These conventions helped to 
connect the Norfolk temperance advocates with like-minded crusaders from across the 
state. Moreover, the Sons of Temperance united temperate Virginians with those 
throughout the country as the state division sent representatives, including Norfolkians, to 
the national conventions throughout the antebellum period. 

Similar to temperance organizations around the country, the Norfolk Total 
Abstinence Society and the Sons of Temperance moved beyond promoting abstinence by 
moral suasion to legal sanctions and ultimately advocating statewide prohibition. 15 At a 



American Beacon, 26 January, 1 1 December 1843. 

Evans, A Digest of the Resolutions and Decisions of the National Division of the Sons 
of Temperance, 6; Daily Southern Argus, 24, 25 January 1851; Stevens, "Temperance 
Movement in Norfolk," 8-9; Journal of the Proceedings of National Division of the Sons 
of Temperance (New Jersey: B. F. & J. S. Yard, 1846); Journal of the Proceedings of 
National Division of the Sons of Temperance (Philadelphia: William F. Geddes, 1847); 
Journal of the Proceedings of National Division of the Sons of Temperance (Philadelphia: 
Jos. Severns & Co., 1848); Journal of the Proceedings of National Division of the Sons of 
Temperance of North America, Fourteenth Annual Session (New York: Isaac J. Oliver, 
1857). 

Since their beginnings in the late 1 820s temperance societies in Tuscaloosa used moral 
suasion and focused on hard liquor only. By the end of the decade, however, proponents 
pushed for total abstinence of all spirits and called for legislation to prohibit liquor sales. 
Legal coercion failed, however, and temperance groups such as the Sons of Temperance 
and the Washingtonians once again used moral suasion as a tool to end drunkenness. By 
the late 1 840s the pendulum swung back toward legislative action to abolish liquor sales 
by raising liquor-license fees to an exorbitant level, with the same unsuccessful results. 






94 



meeting in 1847 the members of the Total Abstinence Society resolved "that license laws, 
respecting the traffic in intoxicating liquors ought to be repealed, and a law enacted 
prohibiting the traffic in them." 16 Like most antebellum attempts to legislatively prohibit 
alcohol consumption, especially in the South, the temperance societies of Norfolk and 
Virginia did not attain their goal as prohibition laws never were enacted. 17 

In trying to delineate the reasons for this lack of success, George Stevens writes 
that "It is difficult to explain why Virginia, a natural area for prohibition, a state with a 
high percentage of rural, Protestant, native born, middle-class residents, did not pass such 
laws." He suggests that conservative Virginians were stubborn in their efforts to preserve 
their traditions such as convivial hospitality, the limited role of women in society, and the 
right to own slaves. Alcohol prohibition would curb hospitality that often incorporated 
some consumption of distilled spirits. The temperance cause allowed women to 
participate in the public sphere traditionally dominated by men. Lastly, Virginians 



Temperance advocates in Washtenaw County, Michigan, however, managed victories of 
sorts with a local-option law in 1845 and statewide prohibition laws during the next 
decade, but authorities were unable to adequately enforce these laws; Quist, Restless 
Visionaries, 14-15. In Kingston, New York, the temperance movement, which included 
the Ulster County Temperance Society and Temperance Society of Kingston Academy 
reached its peak in the latter 1840s, but failed to achieve legal local prohibition- Blumin 
The Urban Threshold, 31, 146, 150-1, 159-60. For studies relating to the shift in 
temperance societies incorporating legal and political strategies advocating prohibition 
over moral suasion see for example Ian S. Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 252-83; and Jed 
Dannenbaum, Drink and Disorder, 69-99. 

Stevens, "Temperance Movement in Norfolk," 5-6. 

By 1855 prohibition laws were passed in thirteen states and territories in the North 
They were based upon the Maine Law of 1851 that was the first statewide prohibition 
against the sale or manufacture of alcohol. By the next decade, however, the 
prohibitionist fever waned and laws were repealed or modified in most states that enacted 
laws based on the Maine model; Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 252, 282; Dannenbaum, Drink and 
Disorder, 98-99. 



95 

intensely believed in personal rights and any restrictions in personal freedoms made 

18 

temperance reform difficult to achieve by legislative means. 

According to Stevens another difficulty was that Virginia's newspaper editors did 
not support temperance reform. They focused more on national politics and events rather 
than state issues and social reforms. This limited the influence that editors, important 
individuals in their locality and state, could have as well as the general publicity 
newspapers could bring to an issue. 19 While it is true that the Norfolk newspapers, like 
all newspapers of the day, focused more on politics, they did support the cause of 
temperance during the 1840s, especially the American Beacon — the most important and 
widely-read paper in the city during this time. Editor William E. Cunningham promoted 
the efforts of the Total Abstinence Society by publishing notices of meetings, extracts 
from other newspapers and books, and news about temperance from around the nation 
that helped to bind adherents together from different parts of the country. 20 



18 Stevens, "Temperance Movement in Norfolk," 6-7. For studies on women and 
temperance see Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance; Ian S. Tyrrell, Woman 's World, 
Woman 's Empire: The Woman 's Christian Temperance Union in International 
Perspective, 1880-1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991). For a 
discussion of conservatism and ideas of personal liberty in Virginia and the South see 
Clement Eaton, Freedom of Thought in the Old South (Durham, North Carolina: Duke 
University Press, 1940), 32-61; and Eaton, The Growth of Southern Civilization, 1790- 
1860 (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 295-324. 

Stevens, "Temperance Movement in Norfolk," 7-8. 

In the spring of 1 842 he commented enthusiastically about the temperance efforts in 
Hampton and Suffolk as well as a report of a Great Temperance Procession in Cincinnati 
of 7,000 to 10,000 people. The paper also reprinted temperance correspondence between 
the "Great Apostle of Temperance" Father Theobald Mathew and the Catholic Total 
Abstinence Association of the District of Columbia; American Beacon, 13, 16 April, 2 
May 1 842. Cunningham also wrote a number of editorials on the subject himself. One 
memorable attack defined intemperance as "a domestic tyrant now traversing the fairest 
districts of our country — consuming the young and vital energies; treading down the 



96 

In September 1 846 he made an arrangement with the Total Abstinence Society to 
devote newspaper space three times a week to temperance. He explained his purpose as 
wanting to "afford the friends of this philanthropic enterprise the medium through which 
to communicate the spread of temperance intelligence, by which the great and good cause 
is impelled forward in its noble career of rescuing suffering humanity from the fangs 
of... monster intemperance." True to his word, there would be substantial temperance 
material in almost every edition of the Beacon until the winter of 1847. Cunningham 
commented that "this arrangement, we trust, will prove highly acceptable to our readers 
generally, who, we doubt not, if not members per se of the society itself, are nevertheless 
like ourselves, ever ready to acknowledge every good word, although... somewhat slow 
to enlist in the cause itself. 21 

Despite the best efforts of temperance advocates like William Cunningham and 
William Forrest, contributing membership in the Virginia Sons of Temperance declined 
during the decade leading to the Civil War from over 17,400 in mid- 1852, to about 7,100 
by the autumn of 1855, to just under 6,500 by the end of 1 857. 22 Like the issue of failed 
legal proscriptions Stevens attributes this trend to the connection of temperance with the 
northern abolition movement. He also argues that the cause was largely forgotten in the 



blossom of its hopes; undermining its free institutions; setting at defiance all its 
authorities; multiplying engines of torture; fencing off grave yards; and breathing 
pestilence upon every acre of our goodly heritage;" American Beacon, 1 1 March 1 847. 



21 ibid., 29 September 1846. 






97 

1 850s as national events with respect to sectionalism overshadowed all other local, state, 
and national issues. Stevens concludes that although the Civil War effectively ended the 
cause of temperance reform in Virginia, associations like the Sons of Temperance and 
Total Abstinence Society had established a foundation for future temperance efforts. 

Within the framework of antebellum improvement, elevating the mind was a 
significant focal point for middle-class reform efforts. Intellectual advancement not only 
helped the individual, but like temperance made him a more responsible member of the 
community. Development of the mind also went hand-in-hand with industry, sobriety, 
and piousness in that a person who continually sought to improve himself intellectually 
also was likely to be hard-working, temperate, and God-fearing. Conversely, one who 
was lazy, intemperate, and lacked piety was not likely to be interested in elevating the 
mind. Within this belief system was the crucial element of responsibility for an 
individual to fully use the God-given gift that was a human's intellect. 

Throughout the antebellum period Norfolk's residents established many cultural 
institutions that sought the intellectual improvement of their fellow citizens. 
Predominantly aimed at the young men of the city, developing the mind was promoted 
through organizations that presented lectures, experiments, debates, and most 
importantly, but also financially problematic, subscription libraries. Few lasted longer 

Minutes of the Grand Division of the Sons of Temperance, of the State of Virginia, at 
its Annual Session, Held in the City of Richmond, October 26, 1855 (Richmond: 
MacFarlane and Ferguson, 1855), 1 14; Minutes of the Grand Division of the Sons of 
Temperance, of the State of Virginia, at its Annual Session, Held in Lexington, October 
28, 1857 (Richmond: MacFarlane and Ferguson, 1857), 238; Journal of the Proceedings 
of the National Division of the Sons of Temperance of North America, Fourteenth Annual 
Session (New York: Isaac J Oliver, 1857), 1094. 

Stevens, "Temperance Movement in Norfolk," 8-9. 



98 

than a decade, however, during the first half of the nineteenth century. A pattern 
developed in Norfolk whereby intellectual societies formed, flourished briefly, and 
disbanded only to be replaced soon thereafter by a similar institution. Thus, although 
there was not a consistent, single intellectual body, there were few years during the 
antebellum period when there was not a literary or scientific organization, subscription 
library, or lecture/debating society in the city. 

The oldest intellectual association was the Norfolk Athenaeum, which opened 
early in 1816. Meeting monthly, the Athenaeum operated a subscription library for its 
stockholders that was open for several hours daily and presented lectures on various 
intellectual, literary, and scientific subjects. The original appropriation for purchasing 
books was $1,500 raised from an assessment of twenty-five dollars from the initial 
subscribers. By 1841 the Athenaeum, like most of the intellectual associations of the 
time, experienced financial difficulties (especially on account of subscribers failing to 
pay their assessments) and was forced to require members to pay more (usually five 
dollars per share) to keep the institution open. The lack of a permanent home for the 
Athenaeum also was problematic as each president moved the library for his own 
convenience. 24 Difficulties continued in the spring of 1842 when there was a proposition 
made to the stockholders to dissolve the Athenaeum, sell the books, and divide the 



24 



Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 118; American Beacon, 4, 8 January 1839, 30 December 
1 840, 21 June 1 841 . See also letters dated 26 March and 5 April 1 830 referring to 
activities at the Athenaeum in Hugh Blair Grigsby diary, 1806-1881, 12 May 1830 to 25 
June 1832, 105, 115, Virginia Historical Society. 



99 

proceeds among the stockholders. The Athenaeum avoided dissolution that day, but it 
would not last the year and its book collections were sold at auction. 25 

The closing of institutions such as the Athenaeum spurred many to speak out for 
more cultural and intellectual venues. This included the young men of Norfolk who were 
often the intended beneficiaries of such endeavors. "A Young Man" wrote to the 
American Beacon in 1840 asserting that organizing a Young Men's Debating Society 
founded by "discreet sober-minded officers" in the city would be beneficial to those 
whose time after work "is generally consumed unprofitably by resort to places where 
nothing can accrue conductive to intellectual improvement; the time thus thrown away 
[that] might be more advantageously employed." He explained that he occasionally went 
to these public places and was sure that many young men like himself would readily 
spend time in an environment where they could better themselves. 26 He was not alone as 
another letter writer "A" pointed out there were thriving debating societies in Suffolk and 
Wheeling. He further urged Beacon editor Hugh Blair Grigsby to organize a debating 
society in Norfolk, "ready as he always it to engage in a philanthropic cause." 27 

The desire for new intellectual and cultural institutions only began with young 
men, however, as calls for improvement in this area of public life occurred throughout the 
antebellum era. In the latter part of 1 842 and again early in 1 843 local physician Dr. 



25 



There was a newspaper notice in June placed by Hugh Blair Grigsby, E. O. Balfour, 
and John S. Millson informing members to return a number of books that were "absent' 
from the Athenaeum for a long time, presumably so they could be sold; American 
Beacon, 19 April 1842, 2 June 1842; Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 118 



26 American Beacon, 18 February 1840. 



27 ibid., 2 March 1840. 









100 

Maurice Fitz Gibbon published a "Prospectus of the Norfolk Lyceum" in the American 
Beacon. Organized to be kept open one evening per week from April through June and 
October through December, the lyceum would be a permanent institution where lectures 
and experiments on various literary and scientific subjects could be given by competent 
local persons and individuals from the colleges. If a sufficient number of tickets were 
sold the cost for a season of about thirty lectures would only be five dollars, he explained. 
Fitz Gibbon proclaimed confidently that the goal was to establish a lyceum in Norfolk 
that would rank with similar institutions in northern cities. 28 

By April 1 843 the Norfolk Lyceum Society was a reality with a weekly lecture 
series given by local men on mostly scientific and medical topics such as light, optics, 
telescopes, microscopes, suspended animation, resuscitation, respiration, and blood 
circulation. Generally subscribers were admitted for free and non-members charged fifty 
cents. In an editorial to promote the final lecture of the 1 843 summer season (a Fitz 
Gibbon program on acoustics) the Beacon 's William E. Cunningham observed that there 



to 

American Beacon, 28 November 1842, 10 January 1843. It is important to note that 
Norfolk did have lectures given on cultural and scientific subjects not affiliated with a 
specific association during this period. Fitz Gibbon wanted to develop a permanent 
institution where lectures could be given. This would actually be the second Norfolk 
Lyceum, the first being established in 1827 by William Maxwell, a prominent lawyer and 
editor of the Virginia Historical Register. Before it closed in 1839, the lyceum contained 
a subscription library and served as a central meeting place for literary associations in the 
area; Tucker, Norfolk Highlights, 1 1 3-4. 

For notices and advertisements of various lectures see American Beacon, 7, 17, 24, 29 
April, 3, 15, 22, 29 May, 1, 5 June, 3, 10, 20 October 1843. 



101 

had been increasing interest in the lyceum in the community and that the lectures had 
been attended by "many of the most intelligent of our community." 

During this time, there was a letter to the editor from "A Friend to the Lyceum" 
that glowingly reviewed a recent lecture given there on the history of Alchemy and 
Chemistry. "A Friend" exclaimed that as a citizen of Norfolk he was proud that after a 
few failed efforts and a long- felt necessity for an institution of this kind, the city now 
could boast of a literary and scientific lecture room that could promote Norfolk as an 
intellectual and cultured community. In true booster fashion he boldly insisted that the 
Norfolk Lyceum compared favorably to similar institutions in New York and Boston. 
Despite his lavish praise the Norfolk Lyceum lasted only through its inaugural year. 31 

Taking up the intellectual standard from the Norfolk Lyceum was the Washington 
Literary Institute. Formed in 1845, the Institute sponsored a debating society and 
presented lectures on a variety of subjects such as mental dietetics, the growth of plants, 
social issues, commerce, and literature, and the culture of other countries. 3 The 



ibid., 12 June 1843. Intellectual and cultural associations that enriched the public life of 
the urban environment not only furnished entertainment, but also provided a sense of 
local identity to the city or town; Blumin, The Urban Threshold, 31-33, 150-9. 

American Beacon, 5 October 1843. There would be no mentions of the lyceum in 
Norfolk newspapers and it would not be mentioned in William Forrest's city directory of 
1851-1852. 

32 Daily Southern Argus, 6 May 1851, 22 May 1852, 3 March 1854. For year of 
organization, see Argus, 1 March 1856. In March 1852, the George D. Armstrong gave 
two separate lectures at the Norfolk Academy titled "Mental Dietetics" and "Growth of 
Plants," Argus, 18, 22 March 1852. In May of that year there was a lecture before the 
institute at the Academy Hall by L. H. Chandler on "Tom Moore, the Patriot, the Root, 
the Man," Argus, 30 May 1852. Gregory W. Wortabet, billed as the "Syrian Traveler," 
gave a lecture on Syria and the Holy Land at Ashland Hall as part of the Washington 
Institute lecture series. The topic was "Habits, Customs, Manners and Social Life of His 
Countrymen," Argus, 22 November 1853. 



102 

Washington Institute also contained a subscription library for a cost of five dollars per 
year or 50 cents per month. The library possessed about one thousand "useful and 
instructive" books including standard literary works and material related to history, 
biography, theology, science, art, and poetry as well as newspapers, reviews, and 

•jo 

magazines from around the country and England. 

The association did not receive total support from the community, however. 
According to a Daily Southern Argus editorial the library was not being patronized as 
hoped. With some exasperation, Samuel T. Sawyer commented that "the young men of 
this city grumble at having no place to spend their idle hours, grumble at the scarcity of 
places of amusement and pleasure, and would, if there was no such a place, grumble at 
the want of an interesting public library." Since the city did not have a public library he 
encouraged them to become members of this "highly commendable association." 4 

Difficulties attracting young men to join the Washington Institute Library 
continued into the spring of 1 854. Another Argus editorial at that time invited young 
men to take advantage of the library for the purpose of obtaining knowledge and 
entertainment that was of a most useful and substantial nature. Editor T. M. Crowder 
argued "how much precious time which is more valuable than gold, is recklessly thrown 
away by the young in the vain pursuit of pleasure," and succinctly implored them to "read 
and be something." 35 



33 Daily Southern Argus, 22 August 1853, 4 May 1854. 



34 ibid., 22 August 1853. 



35 ibid., 4 May 1854. 



103 

A key reason for the promotion of libraries was the belief that many in the city, 
especially young people, were choosing to read "demoralizing cheap literature of the 
day" from the northern, eastern, and European presses instead of books, essays, poetry, 
and prose that would enlighten a person's mind and cultivate his character. Instead the 
youth were diverted from useful knowledge toward the debilitating "light, chaffy" 
material that prevented improvement, made them unfit for business, drove them from 
religion, and prompted licentiousness. 36 

Even with these entreaties the Washington Institute Library would not continue. 
The following November a notice in the Argus from the institute's secretary announced 
that the library's book collection would be sold to cover expenses and that the library 
would close at the end of the year. Crowder insisted that this closure was not creditable 
to young men and those who controlled their leisure hours. With much exasperation he 
exclaimed, "Cannot one public library be supported in this community? Shall this one 
door to the treasury of knowledge be closed for the want of patronage, while the price of 
admission is so low?" He further asked "How much better it would be for . . . the minds 
and the souls, the financial and physical condition of the hundreds of young men and 
boys, apprentices, clerks, and journeymen, who throng our streets by night, assemble at 
the corners, visit places of amusement, and waste their health and money . . . if they 
would spend the fleeting and precious moments of early life in a library?" 37 



36 



Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 347. 



Daily Southern Argus, 28 November 1854. Crowder's use of "public library" signifies 
a subscription library for white men who could afford to the pay the dues that were seen 
as inexpensive for the middle-class businessmen and the young men of the city. 



104 

Crowder further emphasized that during the long winter nights, the youth of the 
city should study and learn. Another consideration was that the ten-hour system had been 
adopted in Norfolk and some believed that one of the reasons for this was to allow the 
working man time to read and improve his mind during his expanded leisure hours. 
Instead of improvement, however, Crowder argued that these hours were a "criminal 
waste of time," rather than the cultivation of the mind. He spoke of the ironic "headless 
youth, vainly dreaming of influence, respectability, and usefulness in society, with so 
empty a head or an uncultured brain." He stressed how important it was to "lay the 
foundation of knowledge and virtue in youth, and prepare to erect a secure, structure of 
goodness and usefulness in the afterlife, than to lay the foundation of disease and 
premature old age, and thus prepare the way for a miserable and unlamented death." 
Reiterating his disgust ("it is an unpleasant topic, and we throw down our pen, surprised 
and mortified") Crowder complained that once again Norfolk could not support a public 
library and ended his editorial almost begging someone in the community to come in and 
save it. His appeal found no supporters and by mid-December the Washington Institute 
voted that if anyone would pay the debts of the library amounting to $400, the society 
would transfer to the party all the property and books. 38 

Although the library of the Washington Institute did not succeed, the Institute 
itself was surviving as it presented lectures and programs. In a notice of a meeting in 
March 1 856, the officers extended an invitation to all those who might wish to join and to 
"lend a helping hand in the cause of our Institute, which has battled nine years against 
that fate peculiar to such Institutions." By this date, the institute appears to have once 



38 

Daily Southern Argus, 28 November, 14 December 1854. 



105 

again organized a large library for "any young man who may desire to devote his leisure 
hours to literary pursuits." 

Other intellectual associations present in the city during the 1 840s included the 
Norfolk Bible Society, the Madison Society, and the Wirt Institute. During the early years 
of the decade the Norfolk Bible Society met regularly at local churches, studied the Bible, 
presented lectures at meetings, and operated a book depository and library. Members 
believed that it was important that Christians continue to promote the word of God 
throughout the state and world. The society also placed notices that it possessed 
ornamented and common Bibles that were sold and distributed to the poor. Despite its 
best intentions the group disbanded by the early 1 850s. 

In the early 1 840s the Madison Society was a popular organization that presented 
lectures, but whose key activity was its participation in Norfolk's Independence Day 
activities. On July 4 th the society would sponsor a celebration consisting of local 
dignitaries reading the Declaration of Independence, delivering speeches on the history of 
Virginia and the United States, and treating invited guests to a dinner complete with 
toasts and more speeches. In a June 1 841 editorial on a series of lectures being given at 
the society, American Beacon editor William E. Cunningham saluted the members for 



39 ibid., 1 March 1856. 



According to newspaper accounts the society was present at least through early 1849. 
The Norfolk Bible Society was not mentioned in William S. Forrest's city directory for 
1851-1852. For meetings of the society see American Beacon, 25, 30 January 1841, 21 
February 1 844; Daily Southern Argus, 6 January 1 849. 

41 American Beacon, 7 July 1840, 7 July 1841. 



106 

their efforts "to improve and elevate the literary taste of our Borough, and to aid in more 
generally diffusing the means of scientific and literary enhancement." 

For its part the Wirt Institute was present in Norfolk by the autumn of 1 846 and 
survived for several years. 43 In February 1 848 the Daily Southern Argus reviewed a talk 
given by the Rev. S. J. P. Anderson before the Institute on "The Importance of a Pure 
Literature." The newspaper reported that Anderson strongly condemned biographical, 
philosophical, and scientific works as well as newspapers and magazines. Reflecting the 
middle-class ideology of the time, he did not want to suppress light literature, but rather 
wanted to purify and elevate literature to a high moral character where it would improve 
the mind and purify the heart. Anderson remarked, however, that pure religious and 
moral literature did not occur quickly, but must slowly develop in a moral and Christian 
community. This reformation is what the citizens of Norfolk should strive for, he 
appealed, to elevate the city and its people. 

Although it would disband by the fall of 1 849, the Wirt Institute existed long 
enough that its demise elicited strong defenders and continued the pattern for renewed 
calls for a literary institution that would "contribute greatly to our social and intellectual 



42 ibid., 10, 25 June, 16 July 1841. 



An association named the Marshall Institute appears briefly in 1 846, welcoming all 
those who had an "interest in the literary improvement of the city" and explaining that 
"societies of a similar character in other cities have done much to create and cultivate a 
taste for literature;" ibid., 9 March 1 846. 

44 Notice and review of lecture in Daily Southern Argus, 2 1 , 23 February 1 848. Also, see 
review reprinted in Edward Wilson James, ed., The Lower Norfolk County Virginia 
Antiquary, vol. 4 (Baltimore: The Friedenwald Company, 1902), 27-28n. Another 
lecture advertised in the Argus of 7 February 1848 by the Rev. Caldwell. The newspaper 
reported that the lecture "we have no doubt that he will do it ample justice, and all who 
will take the trouble to attend will be richly repaid." 



107 

enjoyments." Letter writer "Wirt" encouraged the former president of the Institute to 
reorganize that association or something along similar lines. 45 "A Subscriber" responded 
with the question "where is the president of the Wirt Institute?" and supported the call for 
a reorganized literary institution that would improve its members and "give a higher tone 
to the character of our public entertainments." 46 

In addition to the Washington Institute, which continued through the 1 850s, there 
were a variety of societies dedicated to intellectual pursuits during the decade that 
included the Literary and Library Society, the Norfolk Club, and the Southgate Institute 
Debating Society. 47 The publishers of the Daily Southern Argus also tried to encourage 
intellectual growth with the establishment of the Weekly Southern Argus in early 1856. 
Its masthead described it as "A Family Newspaper, Devoted to Literature and 
Commercial, Political, and General Intelligence." In introducing the newspaper, Argus 
editor William Lamb invited the young and old women of the city to obtain the Weekly 
Southern Argus for their families to read as it contained literature as well as Norfolk 



' 5 American Beacon, 9 October 1846; Wirt's letter in American Beacon, 12 September 
1 849. 



46 



In the letter "A Subscriber" also entreated people to see Edgar Allen Poe and give him 
a large turn out when he performed in the city. He reported that Poe had been favorably 
received in Richmond by "large and fashionable audiences" and Norfolk's residents 
should be quick to patronize an individual so well known throughout the literary world 
Daily Southern Argus, 14 September 1849. 

The Literary and Library Society heard a lecture by Professor N. B. Webster of the 
Virginia Collegiate Institute that was described as "characteristics of the high 
accomplishments of the erudite scholar and scientific mind." In May 1856 the society 
sponsored what was described as a "very interesting and instructive lecture" of G P R 
James before a "large and intelligent audience" who "listened with the utmost attraction 
and much pleasure;" Daily Southern Argus, 1 2 June 1 855, 1 2, 1 4 May 1 856 For the 
Norfolk Club, see Argus, lONovember 1854. For the Southgate Institute Debating 
Society, see Argus, 1 6, 3 1 May 1856. 



108 

"chit-chat," advertisements, and philosophic commentaries of their own. Like most 
intellectual endeavors attempted in Norfolk during the antebellum years, the Weekly 
Southern Argus would not last long, being discontinued by January 1857. 

Among these efforts at improving the intellectual opportunities in the city was a 
proposal in 1 852 to establish a Mercantile Library Association such as existed in other 
cities. The proposal's author, "G. D. C," reaffirmed that the main intellectual need in 
Norfolk was for a public library and he insisted that every professional man believed 
there was a necessity for such an institution. He argued that the lack of a library "is one 
that must be felt by every educated young man in our community, and by every one who 
has a thirst for knowledge and mental improvements." 

"G. D. C." further explained that public libraries were the "measure and test of the 
intellectual advancement of every community" and pointed out that Boston and New 
Haven had five libraries, Cambridge had four, and Providence had three. He suggested 
using the Boston Mercantile Library Association as a model for how Norfolk should 
proceed. The Boston library had 7,000 volumes, along with eighty-nine newspapers and 
twenty-one magazines. Its members contributed one dollar each quarter ("who could not 
afford a dollar a quarter") and though recently organized, the funds raised amounted to 
$16,000. The library also presented a yearly program of distinguished lecturers. 
According to "G. D. C." his proposed library was not meant to be confined to one class, 
but open to all in the community as he encouraged the enlistment rolls be open to all 
groups of the city — merchants, professionals, mechanics, and naval officers (but no 



48 



49 



Weekly Southern Argus, 3 January 1856; Cappon, Virginia Newspapers, 141. 
Daily Southern Argus, 30 April 1852. 



109 

mention of seamen). He did favor designating the body as the Mercantile Library 
Association because the "most numerous class of the community is engaged in mercantile 
pursuits." He emphasized that young merchants would form the backbone of its active 
supporting members. In proposing this idea and seeking public favor, he underscored 
that the Norfolk library would start small, beginning with book donations from city 
residents, but within a few years the library would be a most valued institution to the 
citizens of Norfolk and reflect creditably on the city. 

Combining intellectual improvement with that of spiritual growth, Norfolk could 



boast of a branch of the Young Men's Christian Association by the early 1850s 



51 



50 ibid. Despite the repeated calls for a permanent public library during the antebellum 
years, it would not be until 1 870 that the Norfolk Public Library would be established; 
Andrew Morrison, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the Tidewater Country, 37; Squires, 
Through the Years in Norfolk, 234. 

1 Formed in 1841 in England, the Young Men's Christian Association was brought to 
New York ten years later and established as a national organization in 1855. There were 
over two hundred branches across the country with 25,000 members by 1 860. The 
YMCA was designed to provide an alternative to the temptation of the streets by 
alleviating the loneliness young men endured with its libraries, reading rooms, and 
lectures. They not only received practical instruction in dealing with the city, but also 
moral instruction and a positive environment in which to congregate with others in their 
situation, engendering them with a sense of community. Once a member the young men 
did have to abide by strict rules of behavior and commit themselves to YMCA moral 
outreach programs; Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 108-19. 
Gilkeson argues that the YMCA was one of the key ways that middle-class reformers 
successfully redefined how leisure time was spent, moving away from the drinking, 
gambling, and bloodsports of the pre-industrial era to purposeful rational leisure activities 
that provided self improvement; Gilkeson, Middle-Class Providence, 53-83, 87, 92. In 
Poughkeepsie the city's upper and "more comfortable" middle classes established civic 
organizations like the YMCA; Griffen and Griffen, Natives and Newcomers, 40. In 
Oneida County, New York, organizations such as the YMCA promoted new forms of 
social interaction that extended beyond or perhaps substituted for the family. They also 
subverted hierarchical roles in the society as these organizations equalized the relations 
among men as they became peers and brothers. But they also could be seen as 
undermining, or at least challenging, the influence of the family individually and in the 
society; Ryan, Cradle of the Middle-Class, xii, 236-7. 



110 

Southern Argus editor Samuel T. Sawyer announced that the association was attempting 
to raise enough funds to open a library as a "place of resort for the young, where hours of 
leisure and recreation may be improved by reading and instruction, instead of being 
spend in dissipation and vice." He criticized residents writing that "it is a reproach to 
Norfolk, that with her population it does not contain a solitary public library." He 
continued by stating that if a band of Ethiopian singers came to town, thousands of 
citizens would go to see it, but if there was any presentation of an intellectual nature then 
the residents would slight it and watch it whither away. 52 Despite his concerns the 
YMCA often held lectures by local ministers on such topics as "Christianity," "The Unity 
of the Races," and "Christian Beneficence." They received good reviews by the Argus, 
which usually noted the "large and attentive audience" in attendance. 53 

During the yellow fever epidemic of 1 855 the YMCA, like much of Norfolk, 
languished under the weight of the summer's devastation. An editorial by Argus editor 
William Lamb early the next year provided general information on the YMCA, 
seemingly in an attempt to promote the association and spur its rebirth in the city. The 
article said that there were sixty associations in Canada and the United States with the 
number of members about 20,000. Boston was a particularly strong YMCA town with 
1600 members during the previous year. The association in Richmond was only a year 



>2 Daily Southern Argus, 1 8 March 1 852. 



Speaking during this series was the Rev. T. G. Jones of the Freemason Street Baptist 
Church who spoke on "Christianity," the Rev. George D. Armstrong at the Presbyterian 
Church lecturing on "The Unity of the Races," Dr. Minnegrode at Christ Church the 
Rev. L. Rosser, Rev. William McGee on "Christian Beneficence," and Rev D P Wills 
Daily Southern Argus, 20, 26 February, 19, 26 March, 3, 5, 9 April, 10, 15 19Mav \2 
June 1855. " 



Ill 

old and already boasted 440 members (229 active). Improvement was the order of the 
day as the objective of the association was to bring God and the Bible to young men, 
influencing them in the ways of Christianity through prayer meetings, Bible classes, and 
lectures. Their future impact on the community also was stressed as the YMCA was 
especially looking to care for "stranger youths and young men, whose first associations 
upon entering city life may decide their temporal and eternal welfare, and their influence 
for good or evil upon the community at large." 54 

To further promote its rebirth Lamb noted that in a spirit of Christian usefulness 
and philanthropy the YMCA of other cities provided aid and comfort to Norfolkians 
during the yellow fever epidemic. Also, where it had been formed the YMCA 
endeavored to provide attractive reading rooms, furnishing them with religious and moral 
reading materials (along with approved secular literature), and organized lecture courses 
related to moral, religious, and scientific subjects. Overall, the YMCA made every effort 
to foster moral and intellectual improvement in its members and the general public. 
Lamb argued that an association such as this needed to be reorganized in Norfolk to serve 
the city's own young men, including sailors, who "would willingly exchange their cable 
parlors for the pleasant room of a Young Men's Christian Association." He insisted that 
there were enough resources to support such an enterprise and that Norfolk was "a 



Lamb explained that he got his information from the report of the Corresponding 
Secretary of the Richmond YMCA, Daily Southern Argus, 25 January 1856. No doubt 
middle-class reformers were worried that young men in the urban environment would be 
subject to temptation from the archetypal confidence men and painted women who 
preyed on them, usually new arrivals to the city away from family, friends, and 
community; Karen Haltunnen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle- 
Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 
1982), xiv-xv. 






112 

commercial city. . . . Let us not be behind our sister cities — nor behind less favored 
countries in this noble enterprise." 55 

Coinciding with this editorial a meeting did take place in January 1856 to 
reconstitute the Norfolk YMCA. The formal reorganization occurred the next month as 
seventy persons signed up to become members and later that spring the association tallied 
$130 in its treasury. In May Lamb published a report on the new YMCA noting that its 
efforts to exert a moral influence on the community would be felt for years to come. 
Special attention would be given to children in need and young men visiting or moving to 
Norfolk who needed employment, proper housing, and medical attention. The YMCA 
would employ methods "best calculated to benefit the ignorant, the needy, the distressed, 
as well as to assert a moral influence that will tend specially to benefit young men." The 
YMCA did establish a library that was reported to be large, airy, and well-furnished. 36 

Lectures once again were an integral part of the reborn YMCA in Norfolk. Local 
ministers and others gave public lectures on a number of topics such as religion, 
education, philosophy, ethics, and psychology. An April 1856 letter to the Southern 
Argus from "Zoe" glowingly praised the YMCA, saying "we regard as a special Godsend 
of our people. We bless it — and in the bosoms of generations yet to come, will its need 
be planted and cherished." In May 1856 "J." wrote that although the YMCA had been 
reorganized for only a short time, its influence would be felt in the rising generation. 57 



55 



56 



Daily Southern Argus, 25 January 1856. 



Stewart, History of Norfolk County, 252; Weekly Southern Argus, 24, 3 1 January, 7 
February 1856; Daily Southern Argus, 21 January, 25 February, 16 April, 8 May 1856. 



>7 Daily Southern Argus, 24 March, 3, 8 April, 28 May 1856. 



113 

The library also was a focal point of concern among its supporters. "J." proposed 
a Union Fair be held by the ladies of the city to raise money to improve the library so that 
it would "reflect honor upon the Society and immortal praise to themselves." "J." 
reasoned that mothers and sisters would help in improving the library and the YMCA 
because it would be their sons and brothers who would benefit. "Many young men 
coming to this city and having had no one to care for their souls have plunged themselves 
into the lowest sewers of iniquity, and have soon, quenched the fire of their existence and 
gone down to their graves in the bloom of their youth." "J." further insisted that young 
male strangers were especially important to the YMCA as the association "endeavors to 
turn them from the ways of sin and death and place them in respectable society. 58 

Intellectual pursuits in Norfolk were not limited to books and lectures, but also 
extended to music as several such societies contributed to the cultural life of the city. By 
1 847 residents could listen to the Norfolk Philharmonic Association that in June 1 848 
performed a concert at the National Hotel to benefit the victims of a horrific fire that 
destroyed sixty buildings and left many homeless. In 1853 Norfolk historian William S. 
Forrest commented that the association was "composed of young gentlemen whose native 
musical genius has been carefully cultivated." In describing the performance he wrote 
that the hotel "was crowded by a fashionable audience, who appeared much delighted 
with the concord of sweet sounds," and that the highly interesting musical entertainment 
produced "a thrilling effect upon those in attendance." 39 



58 ibid., 28 May 1856. 



Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 239. See also 
James Robert Hines, "Musical Activity in Norfolk, Virginia, 1680-1973" (Ph.D. diss., 
University of North Carolina, 1974), 54, 94. By 1851 the city also had the Norfolk 



114 

In 1856 the Norfolk Musical Association was formed with a goal of cultivating 
vocal and instrumental talent. At the time of its organization there were forty-five 
members that met weekly, some well-known for their "superior musical skill and 
attainments." A notice presenting the organization announced that members soon would 
be performing for the citizens of Norfolk that would be a "source of uncommon 
happiness and delight." 60 In May the association did perform a concert that Argus editor 
William Lamb described as fine music and powerful female voices that filled the hall 
with a rich volume. He advised the public to forget about their daily lives for a brief 
moment and attend a concert. The audience "will be taken from such dull things and 
placed upon for different objects — of past days and hours of joyousness, of scenes of 
brightness and beauty, and hopes of future happiness, peace and love." 61 

If the Norfolk Musical Association was among the newer antebellum societies, 
among the oldest existing improvement organizations in the city was the Mechanical 
Benevolent Society. Dating back to 1816, the association was not devoted to aiding the 
physical needs of the mechanic as its name might imply, but rather to the intellectual, 
moral, and habitual uplifting of mechanics and working men of the city. These goals 
were exemplified in the society's anniversary celebrations each year that drew scores of 
guests, including many local civic leaders. At a typical affair held early in 1839 the one 



Corcordia Association, Forrest, Norfolk Directory, For 1851-1852, 97. In early 1855 a 
Norfolk Glee Club was organized that performed in February of that year. The group 
appears to have disbanded when the yellow fever epidemic struck the city that summer; 
Hines, "Musical Activity in Norfolk," 94. 

The notice also stated that honorary members would be admitted for a fee of five 
dollars, Daily Southern Argus, 1 March, 19 April 1856. 



61 



ibid., 12 May 1856. 
























115 

hundred attendees included the mayor, president of the Common Council, officers of the 
Marine Society, newspaper editors, and others "of our most valuable and esteemed 
citizens, who had devoted their youth to the acquisition of some useful trade, and 
who. . . . had assembled to honor their youthful purpose, and to sanction. . . . the early 
and earnest devotion of youth to the mechanic arts." Those in attendance drank a variety 
of toasts to "The March of Improvement," "Agriculture, Commerce, Manufactures, and 
Mechanic Arts — the schools in which nature educates her nobles," "Internal 
Improvement — may its progress be as successful in the minds and hearts of the people, as 
in promoting their commercial prosperity," "Education — the light by which genius and 
industry are sped to the highest objects of their ambition." At the society's thirty-third 
anniversary celebration in 1 849, Southern Argus editor Samuel T. Sawyer wrote that the 
evening passed delightfully with upright "conversation, mirth, song and sentiment, 
tempered with sobriety and good humor." The gathering departed "at a reasonable hour, 
in perfect good order and with those fraternal feelings which have always prevailed 
among the members of this benevolent institution." 62 

Industry and intelligence would be instilled in the mechanic through education, 
lectures, intellectual programs, etc. sponsored by the society as they participated in the 
"march of improvement." As was publicized in the newspaper reports many of the 
invited guests at these celebrations began their occupational careers as mechanics, but 
with diligent work and self-improvement they became prosperous civic and business 



62 



American Beacon, 16 January 1839, 16 January 1840, 12 January 1843, 18 January 
1 847; Daily Southern Argus, 1 3 January 1 849, 1 January 1 852. Note that the city 
directory for 1851-52 has the organization date as 1809; Forrest, Norfolk Directory For 
1851-1852, 96. 



116 

leaders. These successful men set a good example for the mechanics at their gatherings, 
which were "tempered with sobriety" and ended at a "reasonable hour" in "good order." 
Despite differences in occupations and politics, like the Humane Association and ladies' 
auxiliaries, the Mechanical Benevolent Society promoted a strong connection that created 
a sense of community. 

Concern for the improvement of Norfolk's mechanics and working men did not 
end with permanent citizens as there were societies devoted to the needs of merchant and 
naval sailors who temporarily inhabited the area. Their main purpose was to protect 
seamen from the immoral temptations of vice and crime they especially could encounter 
in port unless taken care of by the community. A letter to the American Beacon from 
"U. S. N." relating to "The Cause of Seamen" in early 1843 explained that while the 
northern cities had taken steps for the benevolent advancement of seamen, Norfolk had 
done little (an ineffective Marine Society notwithstanding) even though the Virginia port 
city owed its economic prosperity to shipping more than any other entity. Sailor's homes 
had been built in New York and Boston where the seamen could reside, being furnished 
with comfortable dwellings that were well-stocked with foodstuffs, billiard rooms, and 
bath houses all with the goal of keeping the normally industrious seamen away from the 
vice-ridden temptations of the docks. When in Norfolk, "U. S. N." argued, the only 
places one could stay were the "moral stinks" near the harbor. Because of this "better 
classes" of seamen, when discharged from naval ships quickly left for the North, while 
only the most degraded sailors remained "to become the inmates of the brothel or grog 
shop." He heartily approved of the idea of a Sailor's Bethel then being discussed in the 















117 

community, but said that a Seamen's Home ample enough for one hundred men should 
be a higher priority than the establishment of a church. 

Responding these types of concerns a Seamen's Friend Society was chartered in 
February 1 843. Soon thereafter a Union Bethel Fair and several ladies' fairs were held to 
benefit a new Mariners' Church. 64 The association's board of managers was represented 
by four prominent religious denominations — Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, and 
Presbyterian. The main objective of the society was to "ameliorate the temporal 
condition as well as to improve the moral and religious character of seamen." 65 By June 
1845 a Seamen's Bethel had been established for the religious enrichment of sailors as 
pastors from different denominations performed at least two services on each Sabbath. 
By the mid- 1 850s, however, the Bethel often was closed as it proved difficult to keep 
clergymen engaged in ministering to the sailors 66 

With the completion of the Seamen's Bethel Church there were renewed calls for 
a Sailor's Home to be established. In the autumn of 1846 appeared a letter from 
"Observator" about the need for a Seamen's Temperance Home in Norfolk such as that 
established in New York. Incorporating boosterism-style rhetoric, "Observator" 
commented that such a place in an "improving commercial port city" such as Norfolk 
would be an appropriate companion to the "beautiful and commodious Bethel" that 






American Beacon, 9 February 1843. Seamen's Friends Societies in Boston and 
Charleston are also mentioned briefly in Pease and Pease, Web of Progress, 150-4. 



64 



American Beacon, 27 February, 17, 21 April, 4 March 1843, 25 November 1844. 



Daily Southern Argus, 3 May 1 854. 
66 American Beacon, 9 June 1845; Daily Southern Argus, 16 May 1855, 24 March 1856. 



118 

demonstrated the liberality of the city and "deep interest" in the spiritual welfare of the 
mariner. A Seamen's Home, suitably furnished with the flag of temperance and operated 
by a "staunch teetotaler" would present "an attraction to the sailor never before offered 
and no doubt its influence would be most salutary, and its effects manifested in a way 
which would be most pleasing to all who really feel concerned in the welfare of [this] 
interesting class of men." 67 

The issue of a Sailor's Home would be revisited from time to time throughout the 
1840s and 1850s. At an early 1848 meeting the Seamen's Friend Society members 
argued that a seamen's boarding house should be established "to be conducted on 
temperance principles, and with a strict regard to neatness, convenience, and order." The 
society resolved that the ladies of the society would organize a fair to raise funds for the 
establishment of a dwelling with suitable accommodation away from the temptations of 
the streets. This organizational push did not produce results either as the decision was 
still pending in September 1854 when the Seamen's Friend Society brought in a traveling 
speaker to raise funds for the home — a Mr. Elliot of Washington who was in town trying 
to get subscribers for his Sailor 's Magazine. Despite these efforts to establish a 
Seamen's Home in Norfolk, one would not be built during the antebellum years. 69 





American Beacon, 6 November 1 846. 



Daily Southern Argus, 26 January, 15 May 1848. 

ibid., 19 September 1854. No Seamen's Home is listed in Coffield, Second Annual 
Directory for the City of Norfolk . . . 1860. Inaction on the construction of a Sailor's 
Home could be attributed to the financial difficulties resulting from the Panics of 1837 
and 1857 as well as the effects of the yellow fever epidemic in 1855. 



119 

Although never established in Norfolk, the principles and objectives of the 
Seamen's Friend Society are important as they reflected the middle-class improvement 
ideal of the time. Without such institutions as a Seamen's Bethel or Home the sailor, like 
the young men targeted by the YMCA, would fall victim to the prototypical confidence 
men and painted women. Populating the rundown tenements, saloons, houses of 
prostitution, and gambling dens the naive sailor would be corrupted soon after leaving his 
ship. To carry this comparison even further, like children placed in asylums, a seamen's 
home also would remove these young men from the deleterious environment where they 
could be a danger to society. Instead they would live in a safe and instructive setting 
where proper behaviors could be strengthened (or inculcated) and the seamen could 
improve themselves. Moreover, the sailors were portrayed in a context of hardworking 
young men who deserved assistance, especially since Norfolk and its citizens heavily 
depended on shipping. In a real sense, many believed that the city owed it to the seamen 
to provide a home where they could improve themselves. Similarly, reflective of the 
boosterism ideology of improvement, if the city possessed institutions such as these 
Norfolk would be elevated in reputation as a better class of sailors would elect to remain 
when their jobs were done as they did in northeastern cities and become productive 
members of the community. 

Improvement reached beyond the lofty elevation of the mind, body, and soul to 
more practical avenues as well. Similar to many other cities around the country, 
Norfolk's merchant middle class embraced the booster ideology of the time. As the most 
stable residents in the community they became boosters in order to develop the town and 
correspondingly their own business prospects. As we have seen they believed that 



120 

improving the individual not only elevated the community, but also further helped to 
mediate internal conflict by creating a sense of community among the divergent 
populations. 70 In a more tangible way urban promoters sought to establish direct trade 
domestically and to foreign ports, expand the railroads, canals, wharves, harbors and 
docks, and augment the city with such projects as a new city hall, a gas works, hotels and 
theaters, and an artesian well system. These internal and civic initiatives not only helped 
to expand business opportunities for the city and individuals, they also elevated the status 
of Norfolk in the state, especially in comparison to arch-rival Richmond, and the country 
as a whole. 71 

Commercial associations were essential to boosterism improvement in the 
antebellum South and Norfolk could boast of a Merchants' and Mechanics' Exchange by 
the late 1850s. The association's members comprised the various mercantile and 



Doyle, The Social Order of a Frontier Community, 62-64. Timothy R. Mahoney 
explains that in the Middle West, booster projects such as railroads advanced the co- 
mingling of middle-class lawyers, entrepreneurs, and merchants with urban boosters in 
other localities to establish an integrated regional system with goals couched in 
Christianity, gentility, capitalism, and republicanism; Provincial Lives, 4-5, 131, 134, 
169, 217-24, 239-40. For general discussions of booster ideology, see Amos, Cotton 
City; Pease and Pease, Web of Progress; Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of 
Sectionalism; Goldfield, Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers; Russell, Atlanta, 1847-1890; 
Wheeler, To Wear a City 's Crown; Doyle, New Men, New Cities, New South. 

Richmond was the natural competitor for Norfolk in terms of commerce, population, 
and status. This rivalry would not be quelled by the yellow fever epidemic or Civil War 
as H. W. Burton commented in 1 877 that, "From the time that the Borough became a city 
[February 13, 1845], it began to improve rapidly, and had it not been retarded in its 
growth by unwise legislation (of both State and General Governments), the ravages of the 
yellow fever (1855) and the late civil war between the States. . .it would now be nearly as 
large as Richmond," Burton, History of Norfolk, 10. See also Goldfield, Urban Growth 
in the Age of Sectionalism, 206-16 for a discussion of urban rivalries in Virginia, 
especially between Norfolk and Richmond — the capital city being seen by the Tidewater 
port as controlling the state legislature and denying Norfolk access to appropriations for 
railroads and other internal improvements. 



121 

artisanal occupations including commission dealers, merchants, grocers, clothiers, 
millers, ships chandlers, stone masons, and blacksmiths. In its second annual report, the 
board of directors congratulated the members of the Exchange for its success in 
advancing the prosperity of the city. The Exchange was described as providing the 
merchants and mechanics of Norfolk with a unity of purpose and action that had not been 
present before. It had provided a bond for the businessmen of the city and served as a 
medium for communicating information to them and the general public. So sure were the 
board members of ultimate commercial success and the growth of Norfolk they boldly 
proclaimed, "Through the agency of this association of individuals, animated by the same 
spirit, fired by the same generous ambition, and uniting their efforts to accomplish the 
same glorious results, the trade of Norfolk may be extended almost indefinitely, and its 
commerce be made to vie with that of the most prosperous cities of the country." 

Not surprisingly, the report went on to explain how Norfolk had many natural 
advantages as to geographical location, proximity to the sea, accessibility of the harbor, 
the vast and fertile interior, and a mild climate that destined Norfolk to be a great 
commercial port. By forming the Merchants' and Mechanics' Exchange — they explained 
to readers of this report, surely to be published in local newspapers — these men of 
Norfolk realized that they could not depend on the natural advantages of the city alone 
for prosperity as they had done in the past. Rather, they had to combine these advantages 



79 

Board of Directors of the Merchants' and Mechanics' Exchange, comp. Second Annual 
Report of the Merchants ' and Mechanics ' Exchange of Norfolk Virginia (Norfolk, 
Virginia: Board of Directors of the Merchants' and Mechanics' Exchange, 1859), 5-6, 
39-40. 






122 

with an energetic "spirit of progress" and judicious application of capital to spur 
commercial development. 

Association and boosterism fervor also included the rural hinterland when the 
Norfolk County Agricultural Club was formed in September 1 849 by county farmers and 
city men to advance the interests of farmers (which would in turn advance the interests of 
town folk). The Southern Argus congratulated the farmers for moving from their 
lethargy and forming this society that could improve their situation. Editor Samuel T. 
Sawyer wrote that one of the benefits of such an association would be to develop better 
cultivation systems that, along with more skill and industry, could greatly enhance the 
production, and thus profitability, of the rich lands in Norfolk County. As a result, he 
predicted, the agricultural production would soon be comparable to any other section or 
state in the country. 74 

Apparently not satisfied with the work of this county agricultural club, by May 
1851 Sawyer called for the establishment of an Agricultural Society in Norfolk that 
would sponsor fairs, stressing that there were institutions of this kind in the northern 
states. 75 In November 1853 the Norfolk Agricultural Society (also referred to as the 
Seaboard Agricultural Society) was a reality and held its first exhibition that month. 



Second Annual Report, 7. At this point the report turned into even more of a standard 
boosteristic document. The report focused on Norfolk's advantages in geographic 
location, wharves and warehouses, streets, buildings, bountiful hinterland, wide variety of 
goods, railroad connections throughout the Deep South and to the Mississippi River, 
canal traffic into the interior and steamboat trade up and down the Atlantic coast, 
physical health of the city, free schools, associations, churches, and even modest attempts 
at manufacturing (e.g., processing agricultural products like flour); Second Annual 
Report, 7, 18-22, 25-32, 36-38. 

Daily Southern Argus, 1 September 1 849. 



123 

Held for three days it drew over six thousand people and was an economic success for the 
city. There would be expanded week-long Agricultural Fairs each year until 1 859, 
complete with parades by the military and fire companies of the city and drawing 
thousands of visitors from all parts of the state. In 1859 there was even a jousting 
tournament that drew twenty knights (along with accompanying maidens of honor) who 
engaged in a spirited and friendly contest. 

Norfolk boosters attended numerous regional commercial conventions — a form of 
temporary association — during the antebellum period and also hosted statewide 
commercial conventions in 1838 and 1854. The 1838 convention was presided over by 
former governor and future president John Tyler and included delegates from many 
Virginia and a few North Carolina localities. The primary issues discussed at the 
convention included expanding direct trade, state banking capital, manufacturing, 
agriculture, and especially internal improvements. The delegates understood the 
economic and trade imbalance enjoyed by the northeast cities and largely blamed this on 
the federal government and its laws that concentrated capital, trade, and commerce in the 



Northeast. 









75 



ibid., 2 May 1851. 



76 Burton, History of Norfolk, 16, 18, 26, 29, 35; Daily Southern Argus, 22 September 
1853, 10 August 1854, 20 June 1855. Decades later boosters would write, "It may truly 
be said of this Society and its successors, that they conferred a permanent and 
incalculable benefit upon the city and the surrounding country by fostering and 
encouraging agriculture in all its branches, and in developing the various mechanical 
industries upon which the tillers of the soil depend for their very existence;" Cary W. 
Jones and Edward Pollock, eds., Norfolk as a Business Center (Norfolk: Landmark Press, 
1884), 17. 



124 

They did, however, recognize that southerners bore some measure of 
responsibility for this state of affairs because of actions (or inaction) concerning banking 
capital and credit practices, lack of support for manufacturers and internal improvements, 
and the purchasing of northern and foreign products versus those produced locally. 
Characteristic of boosterism there existed a fervent optimism among the delegates as they 
proclaimed that Virginia and the South as a whole had displayed an intense interest in 
commercial development and they did not doubt that successful action would coincide 
with their resolve. The Committee on Direct Trade proclaimed that restoring trade, but 
not infringing on the rights of other states' citizens in the process, "will be another great 
example of the Old Dominion, which will be followed by her suffering sisters; and our 
equal prosperity and success will abate all sectional jealousy or envy, and preserve our 
UNION forever." 77 

Norfolk's associational life even extended to residents becoming involved with 
issues beyond the city and even country. In March 1 844 the Norfolk and Portsmouth 
Repeal Association was organized to cooperate with the Loyal National Repeal 
Association in Ireland. The group resolved to support the Irish people seeking to restore 
their national rights and legislative independence against the outrages of the British 
government. The situation, the organizers exclaimed, "render it not only necessary that 
the friends of civil liberty should sympathize with the oppressed millions of Ireland, but 



See pamphlet entitled Proceedings of the Commercial Convention of the States of 
Virginia and North Carolina, Held in Norfolk, Virginia on the 14 th , 15 ,h , and 16 th of 
November 1838 (Norfolk: T. G. Broughton, 1839), 1-30, 31-32 (preserve Union quote). 
The principal goal of the Internal Improvement Convention held in Norfolk in the autumn 
of 1 854 was the connection of Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River and the 
establishment of ocean steamer direct trade between Norfolk and European ports; Lamb, 
Our Twin Cities, 26-28; Burton, History of Norfolk, 19. 



125 

that more evident demonstrations should be now offered in this Ireland's hour of trial and 
distress." Maurice Fitz Gibbon, chair of the Committee of Arrangements, announced that 
collections would be taken up for the cause and those who joined would have their names 
forwarded to the parent society in Ireland. 

Another Irish Association, probably a reorganized version of the Repeal 
Association, emerged in 1 848 as the Friends of Ireland in Norfolk. Reported as an Irish 
Sympathy Meeting, the Southern Argus commented that several individuals addressed the 
meeting with "much force and eloquence, which aroused the sympathies of a free people 
on behalf of a suffering and oppressed nation." A committee was appointed to draft an 
appeal to the citizens of Norfolk and Portsmouth to contribute to aid Irish liberty and 
another committee was appointed to receive these contributions. Argus editor S. T. 
Sawyer reported, however, that the attendance at the meeting to support Ireland was not 
as large and enthusiastic as they would have expected. Still, it was a "very respectable" 
attendance with a "fine spirit" prevailing and a "liberal amount" contributed. 79 

The antebellum improvement and reform associations existed to elevate the 
industriousness, intelligence, religious, temperance, and commercial character of 



78 

American Beacon, 29 November 1843, 14 February 1844. At a Relief Meeting for 
Ireland in early 1 847 a more organized method was devised to collect money from 
citizens and a committee of solicitors was appointed. The solicitors eventually collected 
nearly one thousand dollars for Irish Relief; American Beacon, 17, 24, 27 February 1847. 
Irish relief connected associations in different cities as there was a column describing a 
meeting of the New York Friends of Ireland, Daily Southern Argus, 1 June 1 848. 

Daily Southern Argus, 24, 26 August 1848. Many in the Repeal Association and 
Friends of Ireland probably were members of the Natives of the Emerald Isle who 
celebrated St. Patrick's Day in 1845 and 1851; American Beacon, 6 March 1845; Argus, 
8 March 1851. 



126 

Norfolk's residents and the community as a whole. The Sons of Temperance and Total 
Abstinence Society fought to remove the threat of alcohol from society; the various 
library, lecture, and musical associations devoted themselves to expanding the intellectual 
and cultural climate of the city; the YMCA and Seamen's Friend Society merged 
intellectual and religious improvement in an effort to better the lives of the young men 
growing up in Norfolk, newly migrating to the city, or temporarily a resident at this port 
of call; the Mechanical Benevolent Society attended to the intellectual and moral needs of 
the working class; and boosters working in groups such as the Merchants' and 
Mechanics' Exchange and as convention members sought the commercial expansion of 
the city, while at the same time profiting themselves. 

These societies exemplified and promoted middle-class values of industry, thrift, 
sobriety, and piety among the citizens of Norfolk, and not just the poor as the benevolent 
societies had done. The collective organization of individuals in voluntary associations 
who shared similar beliefs and (as we shall see) characteristics helped develop a middle- 
class consciousness. These ideas of improvement not only bound together the middle 
class of Norfolk, but in also connected them to like-minded individuals in other cities and 
states, North and South. Across the country societies existed that were devoted to 
temperance, where the YMCA and Seamen's Friend organizations had been founded, and 
where civic boosters had established similar mercantile associations to expand their 
cities. Similar to the benevolent societies, these associations not only served to better the 
individual for his own sake, but also contributed to the public order, and developed a 
better Norfolkian who would become a more useful member of the community and 
contribute to the growth of the city. 



CHAPTER 5 
FRATERNAL ASSOCIATIONS IN ANTEBELLUM NORFOLK 



Benevolent and improvement associations in Norfolk promoted and instilled the 
middle-class values of the antebellum period and provided aid and comfort to those 
worthy poor in a context of industry, thrift, sobriety, and piety. The city also could boast 
of fraternal organizations that had these values as their guiding principles and served as 
mediums of socialization. They bound together persons with like-minded beliefs, defined 
who was a part of the middle class, and provided a means for individuals to climb the 
social, economic, and political ladder. Fraternal associations like the Freemasons and the 
Independent Order of Odd Fellows connected members with others around the state and 
country. Although they were established for military protection, fire safety, and election 
of candidates, militia units, fire companies, and political clubs also were fraternal in 
nature. Their stated objectives became less of a reason to join their ranks than the 
opportunity to become part of a larger group that engendered comradeship, peer approval, 
and that served as a means for socializing newcomers, making business contacts, and 
promoting boosterism. As John S. Gilkeson concludes, "voluntary associations did cut 
across established ties of family, friendship, and work to forge a larger community. 
Indeed, they were instrumental in the coalescence and propagation of a distinctive 
middle-class culture in the second third of the nineteenth century." 1 

1 Gilkeson, Middle-Class Providence, 92-93. See also Decker, Fortunes and Failures, 
109-12; and Mahoney, Provincial Lives, 4-5, 62-63, 81-84, 105, 114-5. 

127 



128 

Middle-class associations such as lodges, reform societies, and literary clubs acted 
as a "community of limited liability" in that individuals could interact and socialize with 
others on a level more superficial than that of kinship or neighborhood, joining or leaving 
these organizations as they desired. Within proscribed ethnic, race, and class boundaries 
these societies selected the most prosperous, stable, and mature individuals who became 
part of the core residents of the community, while selecting out the young, unstable, and 
poor who often comprised the working class. These institutions served only those who 
wanted to join and who could afford to join, thus denoting individual status and defining 
the social boundaries of the community. The central role of associations, according to 
Don H. Doyle, was that "they allowed the voluntary community to shuffle members in 
and out with ease, and, at the same time, provided this mobile, diverse, and seemingly 
disorderly swirl of individuals with a cohesive and constant form of social order." 

On a higher level than other antebellum associations fraternal orders instilled 
middle-class values of respect for authority as well as group and personal self-discipline. 
While persons voluntarily joined these organizations they had to adopt certain rules of 
behavior. These "training agencies," as Doyle refers to them, promoted boosterism, local 
pride, and the notion of living by laws and yielding to electing leaders. These virtues 
were instilled via lectures, speeches, fines, suspensions, and expulsions. Being instructed 
to respect authority and follow the rules of law of the fraternal association helped to 
groom association and later civic leaders. They taught organizational principles, public 
speaking skills, rules of parliamentary procedures, and conflict resolution. Formal 



2 Doyle, Social Order of a Frontier Community, 12-14, 156-7; Gilkeson, Middle-Class 
Providence, 92-93. 



129 

organizational procedures further contributed to the social order by providing group 
discipline among diverse individuals who possessed differing ideas on a subject. They 
also provided social stature that would benefit them in the future in that many who were 
leaders in business and politics were first associational leaders. 

In defining what makes a community an urban environment, Stuart Blumin 
highlights the role of associationalism in antebellum Kingston especially after 1845 with 
the emergence of fraternal, militia, intellectual, and religious societies. These 
associations helped to provide a sense of identity and fraternity as city growth resulting 
from urbanizing, industrializing, and immigration forces diminished social intimacy. 
Many of these organizations also were connected to larger state and national 
organizations that cultivated a further connection to individuals beyond the town border. 
These associations also engendered a sense of community identity and a sense that 
Kingston was an important place even for those who were not members. As Blumin 
states, "Kingston developed a voluntary institutional structure that reinforced the 
presence of the town in the minds of its citizens." 4 

Corresponding to the increase in the number of fraternal associations were their 
expanding roles in the public life of the city. These organizations proved crucial to the 
public arena as they participated in, and often organized, festivals, parades, fairs, and 
Fourth of July and George Washington's birthday celebrations. For the Independence 
Day holidays committees of arrangements would organize elaborate celebrations 
featuring speeches, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, fireworks, public 



3 Doyle, Social Order of a Frontier Community, 12-14, 190-2, 269. 

4 Blumin, The Urban Threshold, 31, 45, 146, 150-1, 159-65, 188-9. 



130 

dinners, and a grand parade involving the city's associational community, most notably 
the fire and militia companies in full dress uniforms. The militia companies promoted a 
sense of community identity as they represented Norfolk publicly in numerous parades, 
encampments, drills, military maneuvers, balls, and excursions to other cities and towns. 

************ 

Volunteer military organizations were perhaps the most popular, or at least most 
recognizable, fraternal antebellum association in Norfolk. During the two decades 
leading to the Civil War, the city could boast of such militia companies as the Norfolk 
Light Artillery Blues, Norfolk Juniors, Norfolk Riflemen, Virginia Guard, Woodis 
Riflemen, and Israelite Guards that met monthly and participated in maneuvers and 
parades separately, with each other, and with volunteer companies from other cities. 
During this time the state required that voting men serve in a military capacity either as 
members of the state militia or in city and county volunteer companies. Even with that 
the state requirement, these volunteer companies generally were considered to be 
exclusive clubs, and it was common for men to apply to whichever company appealed to 
their "social as well as their martial interests." 



5 ibid., 31-33, 150-9. See also, Mary P. Ryan, Civic Wars, where she explains that 
political parties, associations, and clubs participated in the civic life of the city, allowing 
different groups with their contrasting ideas to congregate in public areas and compete 
for political hegemony in the urban environment; 94-96, 129. 

6 John Walters, Norfolk Blues: The Civil War Diary of the Norfolk Light Artillery Blues, 
Kenneth Wiley, ed. (Byrd Street Press, 1997), 1-2; Dugald McPhail, Secretary, 
Historical Sketch of the Volunteers of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia (Norfolk: 
Privately printed, n.d.), 7-8. In San Francisco the militia served an important social 
purpose in the burgeoning city. Leading merchants commanded these units, giving 
members a sense of status. They wore impressive uniforms, their armory became a 
second home for members, and they went on excursions to other towns. To further raise 
their public profile, and probably to raise contributions, they held parades and sponsored 
balls, concerts, banquets, and receptions; Decker, Fortunes and Failures, 109-12. 



131 

The most prominent and longstanding voluntary military company was the 
Norfolk Light Artillery Blues (NLA Blues). Organized in September 1829, the first 
public appearance of the Blues was on 22 February of the next year at a celebration for 
Washington's Birthday, which from that point constituted the organization's date of birth 
as well. The activities of the Blues in the decades leading to the Civil War exemplified 
that of other militia units around the country, consisting mostly of parades, drills, camp 
life, and parties, but on occasion being called out in cases of a severe fire or civil 
disturbance. On major holidays such as Washington's Birthday, Independence Day, and 
Yorktown Victory Day (19 October) the Blues began the day's celebration with a 
ceremonial cannon blast and then proceeded to parade and host a festive ball. In July 
1838 the company acted as an escort for President Martin Van Buren, and members were 
received by him at his hotel. In that same year the Common Council donated to the 
company a lot behind the Court House and the governor appropriated $ 1 ,000 for the 
construction of a building for a gun room. 7 

The company often traveled to other Virginia cities to celebrate with militia units 
and reciprocated by hosting corps from around the state and country. In 1837 the Blues 
took their first trip when they traveled to Williamsburg as guests of that city's Light 
Infantry Blues. Visiting and hosting quickly became regular events of the company. 
During the early 1850s the Blues especially enjoyed comradeship with the Petersburg 
Grays as the two companies exchanged visits during the Independence Day anniversaries. 



The Blues' name arose from its easily transported field cannons and other artillery and 
the color of their uniforms. Gray and Blue were popular colors for militia companies in 
Virginia with seventy-nine using the former and fourteen companies using the latter; 
Walters, Norfolk Blues, 2-3; McPhail, Historical Sketch of the Volunteers, 10. 









132 

They would participate in parades, drills, and enjoy celebratory feasts, with the Blues 
captains always claiming them enjoyable occasions. 

One noteworthy visit exemplifying the bonds developed in fraternal association 
came in February 1850 when the Norfolk Light Artillery Blues hosted one hundred 
Virginia Military Institute Cadets in the city for three days. The two groups had been 
visiting Richmond for the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument there 
and the Cadets traveled to Norfolk as guests of the Blues. They paraded, conducted 
maneuvering drills, and participated in entertaining feasts each evening. Upon returning 
to Lexington the cadets wrote back to thank the Blues and the citizens of Norfolk for their 
hospitality, writing that "elsewhere, we were received as friends — you received us as 
brothers ... we felt that, among you, we were really and truly at home. Ties were formed 
[and] friendships linked together, which the lapse of years can only render stronger." 

In October 1858 the Blues visited Petersburg to celebrate the anniversary of the 
Battle of Yorktown with the Grays. During the 4 th of July anniversary in 1860 the Blues 
traveled to Smithfield as guests of the Old Dominion Light Artillery Blues. Hospitality 
was the order of the day as the two companies celebrated as "feast followed feast and 
libation and the beautiful women strove with the men in extending welcome to their 
homes." This would, however, be the last trip the Blues would take before the outbreak 
of the Civil War. 10 



8 Daily Southern Argus, 20, 25 February, 3, 6, 19 July 1850, 28 June 1851, 3, 7 July, 10, 
14 August 1852. In July 1855 the Richmond Greys came to Norfolk as guests of the 
Blues for the July 4 th celebration, Daily Southern Argus, 3 1 May 1 855. 

Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, 252-3. 

10 McPhail, Historical Sketch of the Volunteers, 10-11. 



133 

The Blues were just one, even if they were the most popular, of a number of 
voluntary militia associations in Norfolk during the antebellum period. The oldest in 
Norfolk (and one of the oldest in Virginia) was the Norfolk Junior Volunteers. 
Organized in 1 802 it was composed chiefly of young business clerks. During the first 
few years after its organization the Juniors enjoyed so much early membership that years 
later Southern Argus editor Samuel T. Sawyer proudly proclaimed that back then "To be 
a Junior was a title as much of boast, as in olden times to be a Roman." 1 

With the group's success, however, other volunteer companies were organized in 
the vicinity and their officers generally came from the ranks of the Juniors. The group 
would suffer through a period of stagnation during the 1 820s, however. The decline was 
perceived as resulting from a number of factors including a sense of security where the 
spirit of business supplanted the pride of battle, the fascination with the far west and the 
spread of the young population throughout the country, and mostly to the overall decline 
of militia associations because of inadequate encouragement from the state legislature. 
The Juniors would be reorganized in 1831 and again in 1852, remaining active until the 
Civil War, holding anniversary celebrations to commemorate their "Phoenix-like" 
rebirth. 12 

In an Argus editorial in 1 849 Sawyer argued that the Juniors were one of the 
finest trained and drilled companies anywhere. He further asserted, however, that this 
volunteer company had been little appreciated by residents for the service it provided for 



Daily Southern Argus, 22 October 1 849. 

American Beacon, 21 October 1844; Coffield, Second Annual Directory for the City of 
Norfolk . . . 1860, 139. The second rebirth was celebrated with a grand parade around the 
city reported in Daily Southern Argus, 1 5 September 1 852. 



134 



nearly fifty years of war and peace, and proving to be one of the most efficient companies 
in Virginia. 13 Like the NLA Blues, the Juniors traveled to other areas during major 
holidays to visit militia companies and host these "Brother Volunteers" with parades, 
military exercises, and feasts. During the 1 840s and 1 850s, the Juniors hosted or were 
hosted by such companies as the Hampton Light Infantry Guards, Petersburg Grays, 
Raleigh Volunteers, Richmond Light Infantry Blues, Smithfield Artillery Company, and 
Williamsburg Light Infantry Guards. 

In addition to the Blues and Juniors, the city counted the Norfolk Riflemen and 
Virginia Guard among its local voluntary military associations early in the 1 840s. Little 
is known about the Riflemen who are seldom mentioned in the public record. Similar to 
the other companies they held meetings, drilled, and paraded but did not seem to have 
their own meeting house. Instead, they gathered at local hotels. The group may have had 
a problem with military discipline because a public notice of a meeting included an 
announcement that punctual attendance was required. 15 

The Virginia Guard was formed late in 1841 with an initial membership of about 
fifty. What made the Guard unique was that the company was formed on a strict 
adherence to "the holy cause of temperance." According to an article by American 
Beacon editor William E. Cunningham, the guiding principle of the Guard was "to 



13 Daily Southern Argus, 22 October 1 849. 



Burton, History of Norfolk, Virginia, 39; American Beacon, 9 October 1841, 14 
October 1845; Daily Southern Argus, 21 October 1852, 15 July 1853, 20, 27 February 
1855. 

15 The punctuality warning was not seen in other companies' public notices; American 
Beacon, 11,17 January, 21 February 1839, 19 August 1841. 



135 

abstain entirely, as a company, from the use of ardent spirits" and that this principle "is a 
very populist one, and there can be no doubt that their ranks will always be filled." The 
Guard was said to be the first temperance company organized in the country. 

In addition to visiting and hosting other units outside Norfolk, the city's 
companies often held combined regimental parades. One such event occurred in May 
1 843 at Smith's Point causing "An Old Volunteer" to write that the companies accorded 
themselves very well in size and ability. He said that the Juniors "presented a very 
imposing appearance" and that the Blues were impressive with their four horse-drawn 
brass artillery pieces. He also complemented the Virginia Guard for its fourteen-piece 
brass band. 

The community became involved with the militia associations in a number of 
ways. Local businessman George Spies threw a Grand Civic Ball at the Arcade 
Assembly and invited the members of the volunteer companies to attend (they were asked 
to come in full uniform). In April 1 844 there was a ladies' fair to be held for the benefit 
the Norfolk Light Artillery Blues where the wives, daughters, and sisters sold useful and 
fancy articles they made and some goods received from Europe for the occasion. The 
general public and the military companies also hosted combined affairs such as the Grand 



16 ibid., 12 December 1841, 16 March 1842, 19 May 1843. Like the Juniors and Blues 
the Guard participated in visitations with other militia companies. In 1 842 the Guard 
hosted the Independent Blues of Baltimore during the Independence Day holiday. The 
groups conducted drills, the Baltimore band played, and they had a dinner with much 
fellowship and many celebratory toasts; American Beacon, 9 July 1842. 

17 ibid., 19 May 1843. 

18 ibid., 22 February 1843, 16 April 1844. 









136 

Military and Civic Ball, cosponsored by the Junior Volunteers at Mechanics' Hall in 
March 1 85 1. 19 

The Riflemen and Virginia Guard disbanded by mid- 1 850 apparently because of a 
lack of membership. 20 The NLA Blues and Junior Volunteers continued as the only 
militia companies for the first half of the decade. They continued to drill, parade, 
celebrate major holidays, visit and host companies from around the state and beyond, and 
attend state militia conventions. In February 1858 the Blues left for Richmond to 
celebrate the unveiling of the Washington statue along with more than thirty other units. 
The Baltimore City Guards also participated in the event, but first went to Norfolk where 
they were hosted by the Juniors complete with an elegant dinner, speeches, and church 
services. The two companies, along with many private citizens, then traveled to 
Richmond for the dedication of the Washington Monument. 

Interest in voluntary militia companies grew as the sectional crisis intensified 
during the 1850s. The Old Dominion Guard was organized in the summer of 1855 and 
the Woodis Riflemen formed in March 1858. Although the Old Dominion Guard 
disbanded by 1859, by that time the city could boast of a Jewish militia company, the 



19 Daily Southern Argus, 8 March 1851. 



In commenting on this state of affairs, Argus editor S. T. Sawyer regretted that the 
public and local government authorities provided little encouragement to Norfolk's 
volunteer companies. To remedy the situation he called on the citizens to provide some 
visible support for the companies at the Independence Day celebration such as banners 
and stands of colors to stimulate and encourage local young men to join the ranks and 
become "Citizen Soldiers;" Daily Southern Argus, 14 June 1850. 

" Burton, History of Norfolk, Virginia, 15, 24, 30; Daily Southern Argus, 10, 21 October 
1 850, 3 April 1 85 1 . According to newspaper reports there were thirty-four militia units 
present at the unveiling of Washington's statue. See Kimball's American City, Southern 
Place, 7. 



137 

Israelite Guards. For its part the NLA Blues had reached a plateau of some sixty 
members, about half of which were truly active. Not surprisingly this situation reversed 
itself dramatically following abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in October 
1859. Fears that Brown's conspiracy would incite slaves to take up arms grew to nearly 
hysterical proportions and stimulated a new martial spirit in Norfolk. Applicants for the 
Blues subsequently increased at nearly every meeting and in November and December 
new voluntary militia companies were organized including the Norfolk Greys, 
Washington Light Infantry Guard, the Independent Greys, and the Southern Guard (by 
April 1861 reorganized as the Old Dominion State Guard). In November 1859 the 
Woodis Riflemen (sixty-four men mustered) and the Portsmouth National Grays (fifty- 
nine men) traveled to Charlestown for duty during John Brown's trial. The Blues were 
one of the first companies to respond to Governor John Letcher's call-up of the state 
militia units and volunteer companies following Virginia's secession from the Union. 23 
A key component of associational life in Norfolk during the antebellum period 
was the collection of voluntary fire companies serving the city at any one time. Fire 



22 



Burton, History of Norfolk, Virginia, 30, 33; Daily Southern Argus, 25 June 1855; 
Ferslew, Vickery's Directory for the City of Norfolk, 160. The Guard would not be listed 
in the 1860 city directory and presumably disbanded by that date; Coffield, Second 
Annual Directory for the City of Norfolk . . . 1860, 139. 



23 



Norfolk's militia companies would become part of the 54 th Regiment Virginia Militia. 
By the summer of 1861 preparations for war were in full effect by the companies and 
their supporters around the city. Ladies' auxiliaries were formed for the various units, 
providing Confederate battle flags as well as supplies to the local companies as well as to 
those in Yorktown, Williamsburg, and even to the Second Regiment, North Carolina 
Volunteers. The women of Norfolk established a Ladies' Aid society that organized 
benefits and fairs that drew large audiences to assist sick and needy soldiers, Burton, 
History of Norfolk, Virginia, 35-37, 45; Coffield, Second Annual Directory for the City 
of Norfolk. . . 1860, 139; Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four 
Centuries, 198; Walters, Norfolk Blues, 4-6. 



138 

companies in the city dated back to 1787 when Fire Company No. 1, later known as the 
Union Fire Company, was established. About 1 803 the Franklin Fire Company was 
formed, its name reflecting the street where the company's small engine was stored. 
Later in 1 824 the Phoenix Fire Company was organized, possessing the first suction 
engine in the city. These companies served Norfolk for many years, but two dramatic 
fires in 1836 and 1846 underscored the need for more protection. The result was that in 
1 846 and 1 847, respectively, the Franklin and Phoenix Fire Companies disbanded with 
their members joining the newly organized Hope, Aid, and Relief Fire Companies. The 
White Fire Company was formed in 1 849, while the Independent and United Fire 
Companies were established in 1850. At the end of the 1850s the companies serving 
Norfolk included the Aid, Hope, Union, and United Fire Companies. These companies 
flourished until 1861 when most of their members volunteered for service during the 
Civil War. 25 

In his work on Norfolk's fire department Thomas B. Rowland explains that 
during these antebellum years Norfolk's companies were similar to those in many other 
emerging cities throughout the country. Urban young men were becoming restless and 
asserting themselves, but they enjoyed few places of amusement or recreation, "so like in 



24 



Thomas B. Rowland, History of the Fire Department of Norfolk, Virginia (Norfolk: 
Norfolk Firemen's Relief Association, 1915), 9; Stewart, History of Norfolk County, 358; 
Daily Southern Argus, 8 September 1854. 

From the beginning of the Civil War until the Federal occupation of Norfolk began in 
1862 the fire companies consisted of men too old for war and free blacks, Rowland, 
History of the Fire Department of Norfolk, 10-12; J. H. Bradley, ed., Official History of 
the Norfolk Fire Department, From 1 740 to the Present Day Illustrating and Describing 
the Equipment of the Fire Department of To-Day (Norfolk: n.p., 1897), n. p; Daily 
Southern Argus, 25 October 1849, March 12, 1850; Stewart, History of Norfolk County, 
359; Ferslew, Vickery's Directory for the City of Norfolk . . . 1859, 159. 



139 

other towns growing to be cities, they resorted to the fire houses by way of clubs and 
meeting places." One of key change that promoted fraternity was that blacks were no 
longer hired by the hour to do the manual labor. The formation of all-white companies 
by 1846 led to rivalries that were maintained until the advent of the Civil War. 26 

The Aid Fire Company, Rowland argues, was the first to understand the situation 
and encouraged such gatherings to the point that it rapidly developed into the largest fire 
company in the city. The company moved from its original location into new buildings 
constructed on city property where they had room for all members as well as meeting 
space and fire-fighting equipment. The company soon outclassed others in terms of 
fighting fires and was praised by local newspapers for its organization principles and 
encouraged other companies to follow its example. Other fire companies enjoyed as 
much camaraderie among its members. The United Fire Company even formed a Fishing 
Club that took excursions to Baltimore. At the other end of the fraternal spectrum the 
Union and Relief Companies withered away as they had no plan to recruit what Rowland 
calls "Young America" and soon both of these companies disbanded. 27 



26 Rowland, History of the Fire Department of Norfolk, 1 1-12; Bradley, Official History 
of the Norfolk Fire Department, n. p. In San Francisco the fire companies were staffed by 
the leading merchants of the city and thus emerged as exclusive social clubs that granted 
status on members. These companies served a social purpose providing comradeship, 
peer approval, and a means for socializing newcomers. They also served a commercial 
purpose as these associations provided an environment for making business contacts. 
The fire companies were very competitive in their uniforms and their response time to 
fires. Companies constructed large fire houses with well-stocked libraries and provided 
sick benefits and death benefits to widows and children. The held parades, parties, 
concerts, and banquets to let the public know who and what they were, and probably 
hoped for contributions; Decker, Fortunes and Failures, 109-12. 

97 

The United Fire Company also was cited by Rowland as a fine company with the 
superior equipment and efficient volunteers. The Aid Fire Company would grow so large 
that a group of individuals became discontent and left to form another company that they 



140 

In terms of day-to-day associational activities, the fire companies participated 
(alone and jointly) in monthly meetings, drills, and parades. In the autumn of 1853, the 
Norfolk fire companies held a parade in conjunction with the second day of the Cattle 
and Agricultural Exhibition. Southern Argus editor T. M. Crowder commented that this 
display showed the interest "this worthy class of citizens" had taken in the city's welfare. 
He continued that these volunteer firemen enjoyed and deserved the "confidence of a 
community who know full well their worth." 29 Participating in the public life of Norfolk, 
the fire companies held many celebrations throughout the antebellum period, some of the 
largest occurring when each celebrated the date of its formation. Early in 1 85 1 the 
United Fire Company celebrated its first anniversary with a torch-light procession in full 
uniform to the engine house, followed by a dinner with Keyston's Cotillion Band for 
entertainment. Three years later the company marked its fourth anniversary with a 
celebration that included the Hope, Aid, and Union Fire Companies in attendance. 30 

Like the militia units, civilians also were included in celebrations as in the case of 
the Grand Firemen and Citizens' Fireman's Ball given by the Aid Fire Company at 
Walters' Arcade Saloon late in 1849. For two dollars (per threesome of a gentleman and 



called the Stingers. They shared space with the Hope Fire Company, but success spurred 
their numbers to grow and they moved into their own engine house. See Rowland, 
History of the Fire Department of Norfolk, 10-12; Daily Southern Argus, 4 January 1850, 
8 September 1854. 

28 

American Beacon, 7 October 1839, 16 June 1847; Daily Southern Argus, 1 April, 10 
October 1850, 3 January 1851, 15, 22 January 1852, 1 February, 5, 23 April 1855, 8 May 
1856. 

29 

Daily Southern Argus, 26 October 1 853. 
30 ibid., 3, 6 January 1851, 5 January, 25 October 1854. 



141 

two ladies) guests enjoyed a dinner and musical performance by Keyston's Cotillion 
Band and ballet master F. A. Karn of Philadelphia. 31 About this time, the Hope Fire 
Company held a supper of its own at Military Hall to commemorate the reorganization of 
the company. The dinner included a wide variety of food that was described as tastefully 
presented with members being outfitted in their full uniforms. There was much 
sentiment, song, and gay jesting that provoked joyous laughter. In describing the dinners 
of the two fire companies, Argus editor Samuel T. Sawyer wrote that "the Hope 
Company, as well as the Aid, are composed of some of our most worthy and heroic 
young citizens, and these guardians and protectors to the property and safety of the city 
are eminently worthy of the fostering care and approving countenances of the whole 
community." 32 

There was a sense by some, however, that the citizens of Norfolk did not 
adequately appreciate the volunteer fire companies. Sawyer described the firemen as the 
"strength and the life and soul of the community" and commented that they were "bound 
together as a bond of brothers" as they underwent the same toils, hardships, and struggles 
in providing public safety and serving the public good. He expressed surprise that the 
firemen were not more highly appreciated and encouraged by the citizens of Norfolk and 
called on the Council and residents to provide more support to these courageous men. 33 
The lack of public support apparently occurred once again in the spring of 1851 when the 
Firemen's Charitable Association was organized to aid firemen who were disabled or 



31 ibid., 7 December 1849. 

32 ibid., 11 February 1850. 

33 ibid., 4 January 1850. 



142 

injured in the line of duty. Sawyer applauded this action, but also recommended the 
establishment of a library association to be formed by Norfolk's firemen to provide 
themselves opportunities for reading to acquire useful information. 34 

Another form of association established for practical reasons, but also would 
serve a social purpose were Norfolk's political parties and their corresponding clubs. 
These organizations went beyond simply promoting a particular candidate to providing a 
context for fraternal fellowship. Moreover, political associations and clubs, as well as 
their expanded campaign methods such as parades, slogans (Tippecanoe and Tyler Too), 
and symbols like the Hickory Pole, signaled a shift to mass politics that accompanied the 
expansion of suffrage among white males. 35 

During much of the antebellum period these political associations became a 
medium by which the middle class could become active in the public life of the city. 
When individuals of the antebellum period gathered in public spaces for political parades, 
rallies, and ward meetings to support a candidate they were exercising what Mary P. 
Ryan called their political citizenship. Along with the right to vote for males, these 
public activities enabled the individual to participate in self-government. Thus, 
associationalism, either formally organized parties and clubs or informal gatherings, was 
inherently tied to politics and a key element in the development of antebellum political 
culture. Civic organizations allowed more people to become involved in the democratic 
public consciousness that was previously restricted to birthplace and property. Although 



34 ibid., 7 May 1851. 



b Blumin, The Urban Threshold, 3-5, 86. In Norfolk the American Beacon was a Whig 
newspaper, while the Daily Southern Argus supported the Democrats. 






143 

still limiting themselves by race and gender these organizations of the citizenry served 
the important purpose of providing a venue for heterogeneous groups to gather in the 
public space to oppose contrasting interests. These groups, with their differing views and 
goals, competed for political hegemony in the community. These contests were crucial to 
the development of the democratic experiment. 36 

In Norfolk the Whigs were the dominant political force for much of the 
antebellum period, controlling the local offices and spurring the party vote in state and 
national elections. But the Whigs also had a vocal challenger in the Democratic party 
and when the former collapsed in the 1850s many of its members joined the new 
American Party (Know-Nothings), which for a brief period had a fierce presence in the 
city. These party organizations formally elected candidates and sent representatives to 
local, district, state, and national conventions. The political parties also spurred affiliated 
political associations and clubs amongst their members to further promote their 
candidates and beliefs, and especially to cultivate party loyalty and unity at well-attended 
parades, barbecues, rallies, ladies' auxiliary events, and monthly meetings (which during 
the election season convened weekly or daily). 37 



36 Mary P. Ryan, Civic Wars, 95-96, 129. In the 1850s and 1860s the minor civic wars 
would erupt into violent struggles for political power as riots, vigilantism, etc. ripped 
through the urban public spaces. After 1865 the public democratic life of the community 
splintered into competing interest groups defined by race, gender, and class. Gone were 
the days of unifying civic ceremonies, parades, groundbreakings, and national funerals in 
which the entire community, despite contrasting beliefs and interests, could participate. 
As the city grew larger and more diverse associations of groups did not define the public 
spaces in a unified environment of minor civic wars. Rather it was these divergent 
interest groups that competed in the public democratic life for their specific issues; ibid., 
136-8,226. 

The first district, to which Norfolk belonged also included Portsmouth, Princess Anne, 
and the counties of Norfolk, Isle of Wight, Surry, Nansemond, Prince George, 



144 

The clubs and associations formed by the Whigs usually lasted for one election, 
being named after their presidential candidate that year. In 1 840 the Whigs organized the 
Tippecanoe Club, named after William Henry Harrison. At their numerous meetings and 
rallies members strongly supported Harrison for president and John Tyler for vice 
president in that year's election and resolved "to break up the corrupt and profligate 
dynasty which seeks to sustain itself by the prostration of the most sacred obligations 
which should bind a People together for their EQUAL RIGHTS AND COMMON 

TO 

GOOD." In 1 843 the Whigs supported Henry Clay for president and organized the 
Clay Club, No. 1 and Washington Clay Club, No. 2. Four years later they formed the 
Rough and Ready Club of Norfolk, after General Zachary Taylor. 39 



Northampton, Southampton, and Sussex. Often the number of delegates attending the 
state convention numbered about one hundred. For various political party activities in 
Norfolk during the antebellum see the diary of William M. Whiting, entry for 5 April 

1848, Virginia Historical Society; Burton, History of Norfolk, 15-16, 33; American 
Beacon, 21 March 1842, 18, 23 January, 13, 20 February, 17 March 1843, 11 May 1844, 
5, 10, 17, 24 March 1845; Daily Southern Argus, 12 February, 6 May 1848, 20 January 

1849, 11, 24 April 1850, 4 June 1851, 27 March, 5, 15 April 1852, 16, 19 May 1856; 
Weekly Southern Argus, 21 February 1856. 

American Beacon, 10, 17, 26, 28 March 1840. The Whigs celebrated the election of 
Harrison with a grand illumination and parade on 19 November 1 840. Their joy would 
be short-lived, however, as he died a month after his inauguration and was succeeded by 
John Tyler. Even though Tyler would ally himself with the Democrats, he was 
considered a good Virginia man and thus his actions were acceptable to Norfolk Whigs; 
Burton, History of Norfolk, 9. 

39 American Beacon, 30 October, 6 November 1 843, 20 April 1 847. In June 1 848 the 
Democratic Southern Argus took a shot at a meeting of the Rough and Ready Club where 
the Whigs nominated Taylor for president and Millard Filmore for vice president. 
Samuel T. Sawyer commented that many Whigs attended the meeting, but that the 
Democrats who were present out of curiosity reported that it was a "decidedly cold and 
spiritless affair;" Daily Southern Argus, 15 June 1848. 









145 

For its part the Democrats of Norfolk formed the Democratic Association of 
Norfolk in 1 843 with the stated goal of opposing the Whigs and the election of Henry 
Clay as president. Those at the first meeting proclaimed that they held to a "strict 
construction of the constitution as the first and great conservative principle of our 
government, and by which alone its integrity can be preserved." Continuing to use the 
rhetoric of the 1800 election, they pledged that they would "resist until defeat shall arrest 
our struggles, or a glorious victory proclaim the downfall of Federalism." 40 

Both the Whigs and Democrats formed corresponding organizations directed 
toward the young men in the community. The Tippecanoe Boys were organized by the 
spring of 1840 and sent one hundred delegates to attend a Young Men's National 
Convention. In September 1844 the Norfolk Junior Clay Club was founded and in 1852 
the Junior Whig Club was established. With the formation of the Junior Whig Club, the 
Democratic Argus opined that it was calculated to revive the enthusiasm of local Whig 
leader (and rival American Beacon editor) William E Cunningham, and that "supporting 
General Scott for the presidency is unquestionably a juvenile affair." 41 

The Democrats were even more active in developing political clubs for the young 
men of Norfolk. In September 1844 the Young Hickory Club of Norfolk was organized, 
pledging its support for the nomination of James K. Polk to be the party's nominee for 
the presidential election. Four years later the Norfolk Junior Democratic Association was 



American Beacon, 31 October 1843. In contrast to the Whigs, the Democratic 
associations would not change their names every election to reflect the candidate, but 
generally were called the Democrat Association of Norfolk. 

41 American Beacon, 23 April 1840, 13 September 1844; Daily Southern Argus, 30 July 
1852. 






146 

formed and several days later its members helped sponsor (along with party regulars) a 
rally where they heard an oration from the party's electoral delegate and future 
congressman, John S. Millson. The Junior Granite Hill Club was formed in August 1852 
and the Young Men's Democratic Club (also referred to as the Young Men's Jefferson 
Club) was organized in April 1856. The Democratic Argus applauded the establishment 
of the latter group but mentioned that other cities had already organized their young 
men's democratic clubs for that election season and so the newly-formed Norfolk club 
would have to move quickly in order to prepare for the upcoming race. 42 

The young men of both parties were indeed active in demonstrating support for 
their candidates. Prior to the election of 1 840 Hugh Blair Grigsby described how 
supporters of both parties paraded through the streets with torches, lanterns, drums, and 
fifes. He commented that "when the young rascals reach the door of an opponent, they 
groan with all their might, and cheer at the dwelling of a friend. Political parties here had 
regular meetings every night, a sort of anxious meeting at which all doubters were invited 
to attend. Such scenes I never saw before." 43 



American Beacon, 21 September 1844; Daily Southern Argus, 4, 9 August 1848, 11, 
13, 25 August 1852, 1 1, 15, 24, 26 April, 21 June 1856. Part of the reason for the 
formation of the "junior" associations was to cultivate future voters. Conducted in a 
context of republicanism, the constitution of the Norfolk Junior Clay Club stressed that 
while the people were the source of political power and that government must respond to 
the will of the people, the people must understand their rights and responsibilities. As 
rising voters young men therefore must be educated and prepared to exercise their 
political power with sound judgment. Of course, the teaching of Whig principles was 
central to this education and preparation; American Beacon, 13 September 1844. 

Letter from Hugh Blair Grigsby in Norfolk to (his later wife) Mary Venable Carrington 
in Charlotte County dated 2 November 1840, from Grigsby Family Papers, Hugh Blair 
Grigsby, 1806-1881, correspondence, Virginia Historical Society. 



147 

Associational activities beyond the regular meetings were essential for Whig and 
Democratic political parties and their clubs to develop support for their candidate and 
issues. They also engendered a spirit of camaraderie and fraternity amongst the 
members. During election season, Vigilance Committees existed for both parties that 
helped get out the voters and monitor the election activities. 44 Other activities included 
large rallies, grand torch light processions, and musical concerts. A notable event 
occurred in May 1 844 when a Whig and Miscellaneous Concert at the Clay Club Room 
featured the vocalist Mr. Duffield of Maryland. Many of the songs were of a Whig 
nature such as "Patriotic Song," "Kentucky Gentleman," "Clay Waltz," and "Ladies' 
Whig Song." 45 

Barbecues were an especially popular activity among the political associations of 
Norfolk and often were combined with other events such as rallies and torch light 
processions. At a Democratic barbecue in Hampton in October 1 848, the party's 
newspaper, the Southern Argus, reported that the "young men of Norfolk and Portsmouth 
appeared in imposing procession, with bands of music, their banners, and beautiful 



In San Francisco Vigilance Committees were especially important. These committees 
received more support from merchants than any other organization in the city including 
the fire and militia companies, church organizations, benevolent societies, and political 
parties. These committees helped the mercantile elites to gain political power via illegal 
activities, disruption of democratic voting procedures, and even the use of violence; 
Decker, Fortunes and Failures, 108, 120, 142, 245-9, 254. Philip J. Ethington argues 
that the San Francisco Vigilance Committees of 1 85 1 and 1 856 were organized more on 
the basis of political rather than social precepts. These organizations were manifestations 
of what he termed the republican-liberal culture and defined as a combination of liberal — 
individualism in the pursuit of self interest — and republican — civic virtue in the pursuit 
of the common good; The Public City: The Political Construction of Urban Life in San 
Francisco, 1850-1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 7, 15, 39. 



45 



American Beacon, 21 May 1844, 27 September, 25, 26 October, 25 November 1844. 



148 

transparencies." 46 Later that month the Democratic Association of Norfolk organized a 
free barbecue at the Democratic Pavilion on Land's End that the Argus reported as a 
"feast of reason ... a flow of soul ... a glorious political festival." Leading up to the 
barbecue was a procession to the Pavilion that included a very large number of men and 
women with Democratic flags as well as bands playing inspiring music and leaders 
giving stirring speeches. 

Grand processions were routinely held to rally the voters before the election and 
to celebrate following a political victory. A fine example of the latter can be seen in a 
Democratic Grand Torchlight Procession held in January 1852 to celebrate the party's 
victory in the election of the state's three highest offices. In a clearly partisan, but 
revealing review of the procession, Argus editor Samuel T. Sawyer wrote that the parade 
route was crowded with spectators along the streets and from balconies and windows 
who cheered enthusiastically. He exclaimed that "It was one of the longest processions 
of the kind ever witnessed in our city, numbering nearly a thousand persons. Houses 
were illuminated in different parts of the town, and hundreds of bonfires sent above their 
lurid blaze. The pageant was grand and picturesque. . . . The eighth of January, 1852, 
will be ever memorable in the annals of our city." 48 

Not only did the political associations of Norfolk sponsor activities that brought 
persons closer together on the city and state level, each association's ward members also 
participated in activities in their neighborhoods. One of the more popular for the 



Daily Southern Argus, 6 October 1848. 



47 ibid., 14, 28 October, 4, 7 November 1848, 28 November, 8 December 1851. 

48 ibid., 8, 10 January 1852. 



149 

Democrats was the raising of a Hickory Pole. The pole raising was an elaborate event 
that included a procession, ceremony, music, and speeches. At the height of the 1852 
campaign the four Democratic ward groups each increased their meetings to every week 
(in addition to general party meetings and city-wide club meetings) and each erected a 
Hickory Pole. The Argus reported that the raising of a Hickory Pole by the Democrats of 
the fourth ward in September 1852 brought out more than two thousand people in 
attendance. 49 Not wanting to be left out, the Junior Democrats raised their own Hickory 
Pole, with the Argus reporting that a large spirited crowd in attendance as speeches were 
given by party leaders along with a parade by the Granite Hill Club. 50 

Political associations also connected Norfolk residents with those from other areas 
around Virginia and beyond the state's borders. There were rallies and barbecues 
sponsored by Whig and Democratic Associations of the entire first district with the 
associations often hearing speakers from other Virginia locales and other states. 51 
Norfolk politicians also went to other areas of the Commonwealth to speak on behalf of 
their parties. In the autumn of 1848 John S. Millson visited Southampton County and 
reported at a Norfolk Democratic rally the positive events occurring in that county, 
including new members of the party. 52 



49 ibid., 28 August, 1, 7, 10, 13, 15, 17 September 1852. 

50 ibid., 4 October 1852. 

51 American Beacon, 21 September 1 844; Daily Southern Argus, 6, 14, 28 October, 4, 7 
November 1848, 28 November, 8 December 1851, 4, 20 October 1852. 

The Argus proclaimed that "Never have we known the Democracy of our city more 
enthusiastic and buoyant with hope than they are at present. Every one is determined on 
doing his whole duty in the good cause, and to recognize not such worked in their 
vocabulary, as "Fail;" Daily Southern Argus, 19 October 1848. 






150 

In addition to these personal connections the Norfolk newspapers kept their 
readers apprised of national party events and news occurring in other states. The 
political parties even helped to connect northerners and southerners. In a Southern Argus 
editorial in October 1852 Samuel T. Sawyer echoed the sentiments of the Boston Post 
and stressed that the success of the Democracy should not deter Whig party members 
from being diligent as election day approached in November. 54 

During the 1 850s the American (Know-Nothing) Party developed a strong, but 
brief presence in Norfolk. Like their Democratic counterparts and Whig predecessors 
they held regular meetings, sponsored rallies, divided the city into wards, and held 
district, state, and national conventions. 55 The Know-Nothings emerged as a viable 
political party in Virginia when the state was one of those (New York, New Jersey, 
Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, and the District of Columbia being the others) that sent 
representatives to a convention in May 1 854. At the next national meeting in June seven 
more states were represented and a Virginian was elected the party's vice president. By 
the end of 1854 estimates of the party's members numbered some 60,000 out of a voting 
population of about 170,000. The beginnings of Know-Nothing power in Norfolk began 
in the summer of 1 854 when the party swept out the mayor and many councilmen, 
installing its own candidates in office. Most of the incumbents in the four wards lost to 
Know-Nothings candidates, while holdovers who did emerge victorious had been 
supported by the upstart party. The victory in the municipal elections of 1 854 was 



53 Daily Southern Argus, 28 October 1848, September 27, 1852. 

54 ibid., 20 October 1852. 

55 ibid., 2, 8 April, 24 May 1855, 1 1 April 1856. 



151 

overwhelming and could be attributed to local issues and dissatisfaction with the 
incumbents. Also, similar to other cities and states, the decline of the Whig Party 
nationally provided a political vacuum for those seeking a challenger to the Democrats. 
For several years Norfolk would be a key stronghold for Know-Nothings in Virginia, 
comprised chiefly of former Whigs. 56 

The party was not strong enough, however, to extend its influence to the 
gubernatorial election of 1855 and national election the next year. With respect to the 
governor's race, the American Party was victorious in Norfolk and Richmond, but 
Democrat Henry A. Wise won the statewide elections by over ten thousand ballots. In 
the Tidewater area Know-Nothing candidates still were elected to the Virginia House of 
Delegates and state Senate. 57 The Know-Nothings of Norfolk made their last stand 



56 Michael B. Connolly, A Love Affair With Sam: Know-Nothings in Norfolk, 1854-1856 
(Norfolk: Connolly, 1986), 1-6, 14. See also W. Darrell Overdyke, The Know-Nothing 
Party in the South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1950), 54, 75-76, 91- 
95; and Parramore, Stewart, and Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries, 1 80-1 . For 
Know-Nothing membership estimates see Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the 
American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1999), 926. Holt argues, however, that in Virginia as a whole 
many Democrats — between one-third and two-fifths — joined the Know-Nothings, rather 
than displaced Whigs as in Norfolk. He attributes this to Whig concerns that the Know- 
Nothings would run ex-Democrats for office, as well as the new party's adherence to 
exclusiveness and secrecy. Still, Holt does explain that some Whigs joined the American 
Party because of its nativist agenda or, for politicians, a chance to get elected. Others 
hoped to maintain a Whig presence by cooperating with the Know-Nothings — an effort 
that would fail; Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 926-7. The two 
perspectives are not incompatible because of Norfolk's distinctive political culture during 
the antebellum period. Just as the city was a Whig stronghold in an otherwise 
Democratic state, it could also have been the case that the city's many Whigs joined the 
Know-Nothings, in contrast to the rest of the state where the former joined the 
Democratic Party. 

>7 Connolly, A Love Affair With Sam, 12-14. See also American Beacon, 26 May 1855; 
and James P. Hambleton, A Biographical Sketch of Henry A. Wise, with a History of the 
Political Campaign in Virginia in 1855 (Richmond: J. W. Randolph, 1856), 360-2. 



152 

during the presidential election of 1856 when American Party candidate Millard Fillmore 
garnered 787 votes and Democrat James Buchanan received 644 votes in the city. Next 
door in Norfolk County, however, Buchanan earned a victory with 1230 to 1008 votes. 
The Know-Nothings would lose the statewide election and come in a distant third in the 
national election, dealing the final blow to the American Party. 

Fraternal organizations were an integral part of the associational life of Norfolk 
during the antebellum years. The city could boast of a number of fraternal orders 
including the Freemasons, the Royal United Arch affiliate of the Masons, and the 
Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The Masons, and their affiliated Royal United Arch, 
enjoyed thriving chapters throughout the period. The Masonic Norfolk Lodge, No. 1 was 
chartered on 1 June 1741 by the Grand Lodge of England, and perhaps was the first 
Masonic chapter chartered in America. 59 The Nephtali Lodge, No. 56 received its charter 
on 1 1 December 1 798, but would dissolve in December 1 849. The last Masonic lodge 
chartered in Norfolk before the Civil War was the Atlantic Lodge, No. 2, being officially 



Despite electing several representatives to the General Assembly in 1855 and running 
Fillmore in the 1856 national presidential race, the end of the Know-Nothings in the state 
effectively began with their loss in the gubernatorial election of 1855 when Wise dealt 
them a crushing defeat chiefly because of his anti-Know-Nothing stance; Connolly, A 
Love Affair, 7-10; Burton, History of Norfolk, 18-19; Hambleton, A Biographical Sketch 
of Henry A. Wise, 7-27, 93, 353. 

The issue of exactly when the Norfolk lodge was founded and whether or not it was the 
first Masonic lodge chartered in America are topics that have been debated by Masonic 
scholars for years. The 1 June 1741 date is the official date accepted by the Grand Lodge 
of Virginia and the chapter was at least one of the first to be established in America. For 
a balanced and recent look at the controversy see Richard A. Rutyna and Peter C. 
Stewart, History of Freemasonry in Virginia (New York: University Press of America 
Inc., 1998), 29-44. 



153 

recognized on 13 December 1854. 60 The Norfolk Grand United Royal Arch, No. 1 was 
organized in 1820. A more exclusive extension of the Freemasons, members had to be 
affiliated with a regular Masonic lodge to be eligible for the Royal Arch chapters. 61 
Membership in the Grand Lodge of Virginia was 1 , 1 70 in 1 840, but increased steadily 
through the antebellum period peaking at 6,71 1 on the eve of the Civil War. 6 



60 Norfolk's sister city also had a Masonic lodge, the Portsmouth Naval Lodge, No. 100, 
chartered on 14 December 1814, Bernard L. Odend'hal, Jr. comp., Register of Lodges 
Chartered and Under Dispensation of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, Ancient Free & 
Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1778-1972 (s. 1.: s. n., 1972); Right 
Worthy Henry L. Turner, P. M., "Historical Sketch of Atlantic Lodge, No. 2," in Grand 
Lodge of Virginia Convention in 1902 (Richmond: n.p., 1903), cxii-cxvi; Burton, History 
of Norfolk, 236-7. 

1 Burton writes that the Norfolk United Royal Arch Chapter No. 1 was organized and 
chartered on 10 March 1820; Stewart, History of Norfolk County, 251 has the charter date 
as 18 January 1820. William Moseley Brown, Freemasonry in Virginia (1733-1936) 
(Richmond: Masonic Home Press, Inc., 1936) has the date of organization as 1808, the 
same year that the Grand United Royal Arch was established in Virginia. 

The membership in the Grand Lodge of Virginia on the eve of the nineteenth century 
was 1,674. It steadily declined to 1,200 in 1815, before rebounding to 1,914 five years 
later, peaking in that era with 2,276 in 1 825. Once again the membership declined to 
1 , 1 70 in 1 840, and then began another upward swing that would last for two decades 
steadily increasing to 1,473 in 1845, to 2,718 in 1850, to 4,395 in 1855, and 6,71 1 in 
1861. The decline in membership during the late 1820s and early 1830s could be 
attributed to Antimasonry. Despite any effects it had on association rolls, however, 
Antimasonry did not evolve into a political force in Virginia. The main culprit to the 
movement's lack of success was the political weakness of Masons in the state, in contrast 
to their political strength in New England; Rutyna and Stewart, History of Freemasonry 
in Virginia, 245-256, 433. William Preston Vaughn argues that Antimasonry did not 
take hold in the South because the regional culture — inherently tied to slavery — spurred a 
distrust of northern reform movements that often were linked to abolitionism; The Anti- 
Masonic Party in the United States, 1826-1843 (Lexington: University Press of 
Kentucky, 1983), 170. As Rutyna and Stewart point out, however, slavery had little 
influence on either Masonry or Antimasonry. The southern Piedmont with its many 
slaves had a strong Masonic presence, while the James River valley and northern 
Piedmont, with its comparatively fewer slaves, was more influenced by Antimasonry in 
terms of membership rolls; History of Freemasonry in Virginia, 500, n. 6. 



154 

The Masons of Norfolk lived by a certain set of rules published as Ahiman Rezon, 
or The Constitution of Masonry. Those who wished to be Masons had to firmly believe 
in the Eternal God, accepting Him as the "architect" of the universe. They were, 
however, allowed to worship with different denominations as long as these essentials of 
religion were followed. They were to be "good men and true — men of honour and 
honesty" who always abided the Golden Rule of doing unto all men that which you 
would have done to yourself. Obligations of religion and love were strengthened by 
Masonry as it became the "center of union among brethren," and a means of gathering 
men together who might have remained distant from each other. In terms of his 
obligations as a citizen, a Mason was instructed to be "a lover of quiet, peaceable and 
obedient to the civil powers," as long as obedience did not expand beyond the bounds of 
reason and religion. The welfare of his country was a singular responsibility for the 
Mason and so no real Craftsman could be involved in plots against the government or 
disrespectful of lawful authority. 63 

The Masons believed in many of the qualities and virtues that have been ascribed 
to the middle class. The first lesson taught in Masonry was that truth was considered a 
divine attribute and the foundation to all other virtues and behaviors. After understanding 
truth, a Mason was instructed to walk humbly and to avoid intemperance or excess that 
could interfere with the duties of the Masonic craft or lead him into actions that would 
reflect dishonor on the Order. He was to work industriously at his profession and be true 
to his employer. When the Mason did have some leisurely hours, he was to spend it 



John Dove, The Masonic Text Book of Virginia (Richmond: Grand Lodge of Virginia 
1847), 77-78. 









155 

"studying the arts and science with a diligent mind, that he may better perform all his 
duties ... to his Creator, his country, his neighbor and himself." 64 

The Mason was to acquire patience, self-denial, and forbearance. These virtues 
would enable him to gain self-control, govern his family with affection, dignity, and 
prudence, and promote the love and service of Masonic brotherhood. Similarly, the 
worthy Mason was expected to give comfort to the distressed, help the lost traveler, and 
to "divide our bread with the industrious poor." He had to abstain from malice, slander, 
and "ungodly language" and know how to obey those individuals who were of a higher 
Masonic rank, no matter the worldly rank. Indeed, the Order did not strip any man of 
temporal titles and positions, and even highly respected them. Yet it was the level of 
virtue and knowledge in the Masonic arts that was considered the arbiter of position in 
the lodge. The last and what they deemed perhaps the most important characteristic for a 
brother was secrecy as to activities and membership of the Order. 65 

The specific rules of daily Masonic behavior reflected these beliefs related to 
humility, respect, values, and industriousness. The brethren were instructed to attend all 
regular meetings unless they were sick, lame, or out of town. They were mandated to 
work diligently and honestly on working days so that they may live in an appropriately 
reputable manner on holidays. They were to complete all the work asked of them, not 
complain about the wages received, and not be jealous of a brother's prosperity. These 
same rules applied to behavior in the lodge as well in that when the lodge was open and 
attending to official Masonic business, no speaking not related to the business at hand 



64 ibid., 79. 






65 ibid., 79-80, 166. 









156 

and no behavior which was not solemn and serious was tolerated. When the lodge was 
closed and the labors and business of the day were done, but before the members left for 
home, they could engage in "innocent mirth," while making sure to avoid excessive 
behavior that may be blamed on the lodge. When they did return home they were 
expected to be moral men and act as good husbands, parents, sons, and neighbors. They 
were not to stay away from home too long (meaning at taverns) and similarly avoid all 
excessive actions that would be harmful to them or their families. To even become an 
apprentice in a lodge a person had to be fully employed and come from a moral family. 

The contradiction that was the American antebellum South is evident in the 
Masonic definition of Brotherly Love, whereby the members were "taught to regard the 
whole human species as one common family, the high, the low, the rich and poor, who, 
as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are sent into the 
world to aid, support and protect each other." On this principle, they continue, "Free 
Masonry unites men of every country, sect and opinion." 67 Missing were African 
Americans who lived in the South as slaves and free blacks. 

The Masonic handbook explained what the brethren call alternately the Four 
Perfect Points or Cardinal Virtues necessary to learn the Masonic philosophy and become 
a Mason. At the top of the list was Temperance which they believed restrained an 
individuals affections and passions and allowed him to remain tame and governable. 
Intemperance caused a person to lose the self-control and humility that they valued so 



66 ibid., 94-98, 102. 



67 ibid., 166. 



157 

much and led to vice, licentiousness, and excess. 68 Fortitude meant that one was able to 
withstand any pain or danger, but only when deemed prudent and expedient. In this 
sense fortitude was the opposite of cowardice and also rashness. Underlying the 
Fortitude was Prudence, which taught them how to live a life of reason whereby 
decisions were prudently and wisely made, keeping in mind present and future happiness. 
Last among the Cardinal Virtues was Justice, defined as giving "every man his just due 
without distinction." Justice was said to not only be consistent with heavenly and moral 
laws, but was the foundation of civil society. As such, each Mason should never deviate 
from the "minutest principles" of justice. 

In February 1 846 an editorial appeared in the American Beacon about a recent 
Masonic Celebration where the Rev. Caldwell spoke about Free Masonry, its purpose, 
and the principles of brotherhood that binds the Mason no matter his religion, whether 
Christian, Jew, or Barbarian. Editor William E. Cunningham was left with "the most 
vivid impressions of the noble and generous impulses that bound every mason, each to 
the other and to his fellow man." 70 The bonds of fraternal brotherhood of which 
Cunningham spoke were even present between northern and southern branches on the eve 
of the Civil War. The Grand Master of Massachusetts, Winslow Lewis, sent a letter in 
early December 1860 to John R. McDaniel, Grand Master for Virginia on the subject of 
the "National Troubles." Lewis lamented what he described as the fanaticism in both 
regions that threatened to dissolve the Union and lead to war. He assured Daniel that 



68 ibid., 167. 



ibid., 168-70. 



American Beacon, 25 February 1846. 



158 
they would cling to their brothers in Virginia, writing that all Masons remember the 

71 

lesson "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." 
McDaniel replied in late December 1860 mourning the loss of the Union, but still hoping 
for a peaceful separation. Regardless of the outcome, he proclaimed that Masonry would 
remain unshaken and that they could "continue to live in the full existence of Brotherly 

79 

Love without regard to geographical bounds or political divisions." 

Like the other fraternal organizations, the Masons often hosted celebrations and 
participated in such activities as parades, dinners, and groundbreaking ceremonies. In 
April 1841 they participated in a large parade to honor William Henry Harrison. In April 
1854 the Masons were present at the laying of the cornerstone of the Methodist Protestant 
Church. On 4 July of that year they even participated in the laying of the cornerstone of 
the new Odd Fellows' Hall that took place following the Independence Day parade. In 
early November 1852, the Masons of Norfolk and Portsmouth came together to celebrate 
the centennial anniversary of George Washington's initiation into the order. They 
conducted a procession through the streets of Norfolk, heard speeches, and later the 
group of 200 brethren enjoyed a supper prepared at Mechanics' Hall. 

During the yellow fever epidemic in the summer of 1855 the Masons were very 
active in providing assistance to the suffering of Norfolk. Members of the Atlantic 



Letter printed in Proceedings of a Grand Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge 
of Virginia, Begun and Held in the Mason 's Hall, in the City of Richmond, on Monday 
the 9 th Day of December, A. L. 5861, A. D. 1861 (Richmond: Chas. H. Wynne, 1861), 
29-30. 

72 ibid., 30-31. 

73 American Beacon, 10, 15 April 1841; Daily Southern Argus, 26 October, 6 November 
1852, 4, 6 July 1854; Burton, History of Norfolk, 16, 18, 26, 240-2. 



159 

Lodge worked among the sick and dying trying to help in any way possible. In fact the 
Worshipful Master Dr. George L. Upshur treated the sick and dying, ultimately losing his 
life. Atlantic Lodge Masons Reuben M. Butler and John Andrews also died during the 
epidemic. As a result of these losses the lodge was draped in mourning for one year and 
members wore badges of mourning for ninety days. Also the Norfolk Lodge and Atlantic 
Lodge erected a monument in Elmwood Cemetery to Worshipful Master Upshur, 
dedicating it in December 1 856. 74 

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) had even more thriving chapters 
than the Masons during the antebellum period. 75 By the time that the Lafayette Lodge 
was celebrating its first anniversary in February 1839, the Washington Lodge and 
Jerusalem Encampment were being invited to the celebration. 76 A letter to the American 
Beacon described the oration given by the Rev. Robert S. Thompson at the anniversary as 
he outlined the principles of the Odd Fellows. These included friendship, love, truth, and 
charity toward its members who were duty bound to provide assistance to widows and 
orphans of its members as well as the sick and afflicted of society. In response to some 



74 Turner, "Historical Sketch of Atlantic Lodge," cxvi-cxviii; Burton, History of Norfolk, 
236. 

A number of other fraternal associations of lesser importance, or of lesser duration, 
existed in Norfolk during the antebellum years. The city had a branch of the Improved 
Order of Red Men, the Tecumseh Tribe, that was organized in 1 852 with the help of 
Portsmouth Metamora Tribe. In the early 1850s, Norfolk also had three branches of the 
Independent Order of Rechabites (Mount Vernon Encampment, Palestine Tent, and Olive 
Branch Tent) and by 1859 the city's branches included the Palestine Tent and Arabian 
Encampment; Daily Southern Argus, 7 June 1851; Forrest, The Norfolk Directory, For 
1851-1852, 97; Ferslew, Vickery's Directory for the City of Norfolk. . . 1859, 168. 

American Beacon, 4 February 1839. 



160 
who had objected to secret societies, Thompson further explained that the Odd Fellows 

« 77 

were interested in the welfare of the community. 

From the late 1 840s through the Civil War the IOOF had five chapters in Norfolk 
including Jerusalem Encampment, Social Encampment, Washington Lodge, Lafayette 
Lodge, and Harmony Lodge. 78 The city's Washington Lodge was the second oldest Odd 
Fellows' lodge in the state (Washington Lodge, No. 1 in what became West Virginia was 
the oldest), being chartered on 3 September 1833 by the Grand Lodge of the United 
States. When seven lodges were organized a Virginia Grand Lodge was formed and 
granted its state lodge charter on 14 July 1837. The Jerusalem Encampment was 
chartered in October 1837 (receiving its state lodge charter in 1842), the Lafayette Lodge 
received its charter in January 1838, and the Harmony Lodge was chartered in March 
1840. During the Civil War the Washington Lodge was the only group that maintained 
its regular meetings, but upon war's end the other lodges resumed operations. 79 

The various Norfolk branches of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows met 
regularly during the 1840s and 1850s and their public activities including dedication 
ceremonies (such as the Norfolk Academy Building and new Odd Fellows' Hall in April 
1840 and September 1856, respectively), participation in parades (Independence Day, 
paying tribute to William Henry Harrison after his death, etc.), ceremonies paying tribute 
to fallen brothers (especially during the yellow fever epidemic), and elaborate 



77 



78 



ibid., 8 February 1839. 



Forrest, Norfolk Directory, For 1851-1852, 97; Ferslew, Vickery's Directory for the 
City of Norfolk. . . 1859, 167-8; Daily Southern Argus, 14 September 1848. 



!<-) 



Burton, History of Norfolk, 26, 240-2. 






161 

celebrations commemorating the anniversaries of local, state, and national IOOF 
lodges. 80 

A published extract from the Baltimore Sun early in 1 842, whose editors admitted 
they were not members of the IOOF, characterized the organization as among the best in 
the country for the purposes of charity and benevolence. The American Beacon reprinted 
the article that explained the purpose of the association was for mutual assistance. An 
individual would pay an amount to join a local lodge along with monthly dues. In return 
each member was entitled to a sum of money for interment and disbursement to families 
in case of sickness or death. Additionally, the member and his family were provided with 
watchers among the members to ensure the well-being of the sick brother or his family. 
The Sun proclaimed that the "Odd Fellows Association may be safely pronounced as 
among the most excellent and efficient charitable associations in existence." 81 

Agreeing with this sentiment, Southern Argus editor Samuel T. Sawyer, who was 
not a member, wrote that "the advancement of the empire of universal charity, is the great 
object of Odd Fellowship throughout the globe." Charity was seen as the highest virtue 
and was as much the goal of Odd Fellows as benevolence was the object of a church. In 
response to criticism that members only took care of their own, Sawyer stressed that 
while they were indeed bound together by a fraternal bond, it connected them to all 
mankind as well. The soul of this organization was charity and their efforts continued to 



American Beacon, 25 April 1840, 14, 15 April 1841, 24 April 1843, 27 April 1846; 
Daily Southern Argus, 12 January 1856. 

American Beacon, 10 February 1842. 



162 

grow and "strengthen even greater than the strength of this vigorous republic, in its 
gigantic strides of grandeur." 

Early in 1851 the Argus reprinted an article from an Odd Fellows newspaper 
printed in Philadelphia explaining that although many of the church denominations were 
separating into northern and southern organizations, the Odd Fellows were standing 
unified and their numbers were increasing all over the country in both regions. "Allied 
by the strongest ties which bind brother to brother," the article exclaimed, "they are not to 
be estranged by sectional jealousies or agitation." The newspaper also implored, "To our 
northern friends, who are acting from impulse, not reason, we say, you are mistaken in 
the course you are pursuing. Every threat and bitter invecture is [making] the chains of 
the slave tighter; every curse you breathe against the institutions of slavery is an attack on 
the character of your fathers who had their full share in inflicting the evil on our southern 
brethren." Sawyer highlighted this article as he beseeched people to "disregard all 
feeling of sectional animosity" and to resolve the problems of the country by amending 
the constitutional laws of the land rather than destroying them. 

Other private insurance associations existed in the city to provide benefits to 
members and their families after they passed away. By the mid- 1 850s Norfolk could 
boast of two such mutual benefit associations including the Washington Insurance 
Company, formed in April 1 854, and the Norfolk Provident Society, by far the most 
enduring and most successful private life insurance organization in the city. Founded in 
1819 and incorporated the next year, the Norfolk Provident Society paid more than sixty 



Daily Southern Argus, 10 September 1850. 
83 ibid., 4 February 1851. 



163 

thousand dollars to the families of eighty deceased members over the next thirty-five 
years. By March 1854, the entire amount paid in by all the society's members was 
$33,792 and the amount of capital invested in stocks and other securities was $33,814.81. 
In early 1856 the society reported that it paid out about $15,000 to the heirs of the 
twenty-eight members who died in the recent yellow fever epidemic. 

An early 1856 editorial in the Southern Argus discussed the benefits of the society 
and strongly suggested that young men in the city should join this "excellent association" 
because the benefits, even if they were not very large, would be crucial to the family of 
the deceased member when his labor for the family was gone. Argus editors Abram F. 
Leonard and William Lamb reported that the society had survived various national 
economic upheavals, bankruptcy, and epidemics, but had remained safe and solvent and 
that the society would continue to be useful for years to come. 85 

There was a key difference between the Norfolk Provident Society and the Odd 
Fellows, even though both were essentially private insurance associations. The Norfolk 
Provident Society was an organization open to all who could afford the membership fees. 
In contrast, the IOOF was a secret society where those who wished to join had to be 



QA 

The Norfolk Provident Society met monthly throughout the antebellum period with the 
predominant order of business hearing the financial reports. In terms of dues and 
payments, its members paid ten dollars at the time they joined and one dollar per month 
thereafter. When a member died within one year of joining, he sacrificed the sum he had 
paid into the society. If a member died within three years, his family received twice the 
amount of his regular payments, and if a member died after three years' membership, his 
widow and orphans got three times the amount he had contributed. The payments could 
not be withdrawn and if dues were not made for twelve months, the member was 
removed from the society and forfeited his previous contributions; Daily Southern Argus, 
26, 27 April 1854. See also the yellow fever report in Argus, 26, 31 January 1856. 

85 ibid., 26, 31 January 1856. 



164 

accepted by members and follow strict rules, thus creating a more fraternal community 
among the Odd Fellows. The Norfolk Provident Society was much more of a formal 
business arrangement than a club and the bonds between the members were much less 
important. Although there were some key differences, the Norfolk Provident Society did 
encompass many of the various middle-class characteristics of other associations such as 
participating in public celebrations and parades and targeting the young men of the city 
for membership. Moreover, the men who joined the society were portrayed as 
individuals who were making arrangements to provide for their families following their 
deaths. Taking responsibility for one's family went hand-in-hand with middle-class 
beliefs. The good head of household showed great industry and acted as a good Christian 
to provide for his family, was thrifty in managing money wisely for his family's future 
use rather than spending this money on luxuries, and surely no intemperate man thought 

enough to provide for his family in the present, let alone the future when he died. 87 

************ 

These fraternal organizations were a crucial setting for the socialization of the 
middle class by instilling its values in members. Even those organizations such as militia 
and fire companies, originally established to protect person and property, were equally 
important as places for men to gather with like-minded peers in friendship and 



See, for example, the Norfolk's Provident Society's participation in the procession and 
ceremony to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of a new Baptist Church in Daily 
Southern Argus, 14 August 1848. 

87 

Don H. Doyle argues that these mutual benefit associations were the predecessors of 
modern national life insurance companies. In an age of rapid change that frayed the 
traditional kinship ties, these associations helped to support the nuclear family by 
providing assurances of financial assistance to surviving family members; Doyle, "Social 
Functions in a Nineteenth Century Town," Social Science History 1 (Spring 1977): 347. 



165 

camaraderie. With restrictions on who may be a member these fraternal associations 
gave status to their members and defined who was a part of the middle class and who was 
not. They further aided in cultivating urban leaders as many of those who became 
mayors and councilmen learned the necessary skills and gained experience in 
associations. These organizations served a very prominent role in Norfolk's public life 
through their participation in, and often organization of, parades, ceremonies, 
celebrations, and other public events. With their statewide and national memberships, 
fraternal associations bound together not only the men of Norfolk, but also connected 
them with those of other cities and states around the country, these bonds even holding 
until the coming of the Civil War. 















CHAPTER 6 
CHARACTERISTICS OF ASSOCIATION MEMBERS 



In towns like Jacksonville and Providence associational membership consisted of 
the upwardly mobile middle-class such as merchants, professionals, shopkeepers, skilled 
mechanics, small manufacturers, and clerks rather than the old money traditional elite 
merchants and gentlemen leaders of the community. Ethnic, racial, and class boundaries 
limited who could become a member of a lodge, reform society, or literary club, and 
correspondingly, a civic and business leader. Voluntary associations selected the most 
prosperous, stable, and mature individuals, who became part of the core residents of the 
community, and selected out the young and poor. These membership requirements 
limited the numbers of working class, immigrants, and poor. 1 Multiple office-holding, or 
what Peter Decker terms an "interlocking directorate," existed among association leaders 
in San Francisco and other cities. Also their wives, daughters, and sisters established 
their own women's auxiliaries and societies. 2 

Associational and civic leaders in Jacksonville shared characteristics in that most 
were native, Protestant, in their thirties or forties, had families with three or more 
children, were landowners, and demographic persisters from one generation to the next. 
Occupationally there existed a wider variety as the town's officeholders not only included 



1 Doyle, Social Order of a Frontier Community, 12-14, 156-7, 261-2. Gilkeson, Middle- 
Class Providence, 12-13, 29-32, 92-93. 

Decker, Fortunes and Failures, 108-9. 

166 



167 

professionals, merchants, and bankers, but also a sizeable number of skilled craftsmen 
such as blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, carpenters, and brick masons. These skilled artisans 
were not simply laborers, however, but proprietors who successfully owned their own 
shops and were accumulating wealth. Doyle explains that they were essentially middle 
class in stature and many were trying to "change their titles to reflect their middle-class 
aspirations." 3 

In Poughkeepsie voluntary associations divided themselves along class lines. The 
city's upper and more comfortable middle classes established civic organizations like the 
Young Men's Christian Association, benevolent societies such as the Home for the 
Friendless and the Old Ladies Home, literary societies, and leisure clubs devoted to 
horticulture, boating, and driving. Skilled artisans and "merchants of modest prosperity" 
were the majority in volunteer fire and militia companies, and established their own 
leisure social clubs. Both classes joined the fraternal orders such as the Masons and Odd 



In his study of Jacksonville Don Doyle defined the middle class along occupational 
lines. Using Merle Curti's The Making of an American Community as a starting point (he 
broke Curti's twelve categories into five and added a property qualification, $500 
combined real and personal property, to distinguish between artisan proprietors from 
other skilled laborers) he described several types of occupational classes. At the top the 
business-professionals included professionals such as attorneys, physicians, teachers, 
clergy, and government officials and businessmen like manufacturers, grocers, hotel 
owners, mill proprietors, and property-owing farmers and stock raisers. Skilled laborers 
were broken down into proprietors and non-proprietors and the general category of 
skilled laborer included specialized skills in building, metal, wood, leather, food 
processing, and clothing trades, mechanics, apprentices, barbers, and clerks. Unskilled 
laborers included general laborers, draymen, railroad laborers, and domestic servants. 
Doyle characterized the business-professional and skilled craftsman/proprietor as white 
collar and the skilled craftsman/non-proprietor and unskilled laborer as blue collar; 
Doyle, Social Order of a Frontier Community, 64, 190-2, 225-6, 261-70. 









168 

Fellows, but the specific chapter lodges within the city were divided by class and even 
ethnic groups. 

Paul Boyer explains that during the Jacksonian Era religious voluntary 
organizations such as Bible and tract societies and Sabbath schools were organized by 
local clergy as well as elite merchants, businessmen, and professionals of the community. 
Working just under these associational leaders as Sabbath school teachers, Bible and tract 
distributors, office volunteers, and smaller contributors on the "exposed front lines of the 
struggle" was a large "dedicated army of urban-morality foot soldiers" made up of lower 
level professionals and white-collar workers (e.g., clerks, bank tellers) as well as many 
women from the community. For its part, the leadership of the YMC A in the two 
decades prior to the Civil War consisted primarily of the upper middle-class proprietors, 
businessmen, and professionals. The membership, those being served by the YMCA, 
mostly comprised the lower end of the middle class, or at least those with middle-class 
ambitions, such as clerks, salesmen, skilled artisans, and students. The YMCA did not 
include significant numbers of working class factory workers or unskilled laborers. 5 

In Tuscaloosa the leaders of the Bible and tract societies, and Sabbath schools 
were not the white plantation slaveowners, but Whiggish professionals and merchants 
who did own slaves and who were members of other intellectual and improvement 
associations. The white women of Tuscaloosa also had their own religious, benevolent, 



In the postwar period the working-class would come to dominate the fire companies. 
As industrialization reduced the opportunities for upward mobility in Poughkeepsie fire 
companies provided a sense of solidarity among the working class and a sense of status 
among the community at large for their good works; Griffen and Griffen, Natives and 
Newcomers, 40—43. 

5 Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 1-15, 108-19. 



169 

and improvement societies. Temperance organizations comprised different groups of 
people depending on which association is examined. Members of the more established 
Tuscaloosa Temperance Society and the Alabama Total Abstinence Society came from 
the most stable and highest status groups in the town, most of whom were older (in their 
thirties or forties), and had occupations as professionals (along with a few proprietors, 
artisans, and farmers). The members of the Tuscaloosa's Young Men's Total Abstinence 
Society, however, were younger, lower level professionals (presumably not as 
established), and included substantial numbers of shopkeepers, artisans, and farmers. 
While the majority did own slaves, the numbers of slaves owned was less than that for 
the elites. The Sons of Temperance drew an even younger age cohort, and while it had 
more members from artisan and farmer occupations, professionals still composed the 
largest single group. The wealth holdings (little or no real estate) and slaveholdings (the 
majority did own slaves) was less than that for the other groups. Quist explains that the 
temperance movement in Tuscaloosa mirrored that in Washtenaw County as it had a 
membership dominated by elite professionals tied to the national economy and who, in 
comparison with the general population, owned more real estate. Lastly, in a parallel of 
sorts with Tuscaloosa slaveholding teetotalers, Washtenaw's temperance proponents were 
dominated by abolitionists. 6 

In antebellum Baltimore a rising upper middle class that contrasted the traditional 
elite established benevolent societies to assist the worthy poor and a Chamber of 
Commerce to assist in development of the city. For their part the middling ranks of 



These elite members seemingly possessed a class bias as they sought to limit hard liquor 
alcohol consumption among the lower classes, but did not seek action against their wine; 
Quist, Restless Visionaries, 13-21, 31-49, 65-86, 221-8, 234, 302. 



170 

artisans, lower level entrepreneurs, and professionals formed their own associations. 
Artisans established informal guilds, militia and fire companies, agricultural, economic, 
and Newtonian Societies, as well as clubs for young people. 7 

In Kingston what Stuart Blumin calls the upper and middle classes of the 
community dominated the membership rolls in the voluntary associations. The most 
active participants were county natives and longtime resident immigrants who held 
occupations such as professionals and proprietors. Mid-level participants included those 
with occupations such as skilled craftsmen and clerks, while those in the lower 
semiskilled and unskilled occupations rarely participated in the associational life of the 
town. Leadership in these associations was more prevalent in the native-born rather than 
immigrants, who often held lower-level unskilled occupations. Men defined to be in 
high-ranking occupations such as professionals, merchant proprietors, and manufacturers 
constituted only 15 percent of the adult population in 1860, but constituted the majority, 
and oftentimes much more, of the membership in the various associations and municipal 
offices. In terms of wealth Blumin explains that men in the high-ranking occupations 
may have been proprietors who owned their own shops, but were not necessarily the 
richest persons in the community. About 20 to 25 percent of associational membership 
(in the fire companies about 5 percent) could be considered wealthy, possessing over 
$10,000 in real estate and personal property. This constituted about 4 percent of the 
population. Those in leadership positions were better off, however, as almost 40 percent 



Societies also were formed by excluded ethnic groups such as Jews after 1830 
legislation permitted them to organize such bodies. Blacks formed the mutual aid 
societies for men and women organized around churches or occupations (such as barbers 
and porters); Townsend, Tales of Two Cities, 101-22, 158-72. 












171 

of leaders owned property worth more than $10,000. Although they may not have 
consistently been the wealthiest, property ownership was a sharp indicator of association 
participation as those with $10,000 in real and personal property were overwhelmingly 
association members, and among natives many were leaders. In contrast those reporting 

o 

$1,000 or less were much less involved in associations and few were leaders. 

A sample of 400 men who were members of associations between 1845 and 1854, 
drawn from membership rolls, newspapers, and local histories of these organizations and 
the city, presents the typology. Age, nativity, marital status, children, occupation, real 
estate wealth, and slaveownership were collected using the 1850 manuscript census and 
city directories. These variables were analyzed together with association characteristics 
such as the number of associations joined during the decade, years of membership, and 
leadership positions held. Although not an exhaustive collection of persons who were 
involved in the associational life, the sample does reflect the general characteristics of 
those who joined during the antebellum period in Norfolk. 9 



■ 

For Blumin the upper class refers to the elite entrepreneurs at the high end of the middle 
class spectrum, while the middle class refers to the mid-level lower white-collar types of 
the middle class. They did not dominate the fire companies, however, which were the 
most prevalent organization for immigrant membership; Blumin, The Urban Threshold, 
46, 174-82. Sven Beckert also considers $10,000 in real estate and personal property a 
dividing line for distinguishing the economic elites; The Monied Metropolis, 20-21, 31. 

More associational names were obtained from the various sources than the sample of 
400 examined. However, to delineate various personal characteristics only those who 
could be found in the 1850 manuscript census were included in order to indicate such 
details as marital status, children (if any), occupation, real estate holdings, and place of 
origin. Also, names were collected only for those persons who were in associations from 
1845 through 1854. By using this ten-year period surrounding the 1850 census their 
characteristics would be more relevant than using individuals who were members of 
associations in the early 1840s or late 1850s, further away in time from the 1850 census 
when their occupations and wealth could have been substantially different. Data on the 
400 members in this sample also were taken from the 1 850 manuscript slave census and 



172 






To gauge the level of participation, the number of associations joined by those in 
the sample of 400 was collected. Seventy-one percent (n=2 84) joined only one 
association, while 29 percent (n=l 16) joined between two and five organizations (see 
Table 4 for a breakdown of the number of associations joined by the sample). Newton C. 
King was the most prolific joiner during this period. A retail merchant specializing in 
patent medicines, the thirty-eight year-old King owned $3,800 in real estate property and 
two slaves. Involved in five associations, he was a captain in the Hope Fire Company, 
president of the Aid Fire Company, a lieutenant in the Virginia Militia, on the executive 
committee of the Norfolk Tract Union, and a member of the Vigilance Committee of the 
Democratic Party. He was also a member of the city's Select Council in 1852. 10 Another 
active joiner was forty-three year-old Richard H. Chamberlaine. A married father of six 
children, he was a cashier with the Norfolk branch of the Farmers' Bank of Virginia as 
well as a councilman, possessing $17,500 in real estate and owning nineteen slaves. 
Busy in four associations, he was a member of the Norfolk Provident Society, a manager 
of both the Seamen's Friend Society and Norfolk Tract Union, and a vice president of the 
Norfolk Humane Association. At the other end of the economic spectrum was Samuel R. 
Borum. An active young twenty-one year-old merchant with no wife, children, or real 



the 1850 personal property tax rolls. The 1850 census and personal property records were 
selected over that from the 1860 census because the 1855 yellow fever epidemic killed 
thousands, including many association leaders and members, thus possibly skewing the 
results. 

It should be noted that although it falls out of our decade under study, King also was a 
solicitor for the Humane Association in 1839-1840, a member of the Whig Committee in 
1840, and a subscriber to the Merchants' and Mechanics' Exchange in 1859. 









173 

estate holdings (though he did own one female slave) Borum exemplified the young 
upstart looking to move up the socio-economic ladder in the city. Although only in his 
early twenties already he was a Master Mason with the Norfolk Lodge, a private in the 
Norfolk Light Artillery Blues, and a secretary and treasurer of the Norfolk Musical 
Association. Interested in politics he served on a Vigilance Committee of the Democratic 
Party and as a secretary and finance committee member of the Democratic Association's 
third ward. ' 

The level of participation also was analyzed with respect the number of years 
persons were involved in associations within the 1845-1854 period. One-third of the 
sample (n=131) were part of an organization for only one year, while 20 percent (n=78) 
and 17 percent (n=69) persisted for two and three years, respectively (see Table 5 for a 
breakdown of years of association membership). At the other end of the spectrum, several 
men belonged to associations from ten to thirteen years. The most active was Peter P. 
Mayo, a fifty-two year-old attorney with no real estate holdings, but four slaves. He was 
a member of the Norfolk Masonic Lodge for nine years as a Master Mason and then a 
Junior and Senior Warden. He was a member of the Seamen's Friend Society for four 
years, serving as a manager for two years. 13 Another busy association member was 
William Dey, a forty-year-old tailor/proprietor with $40,000 in real estate property and 



Borum would rise to positions of importance in the city, becoming a director of the 
Merchants' and Mechanics' Exchange in 1859-1860. 

The figures of more than ten years are possible because a person could be in multiple 
associations each for several years. 

Although they fell outside our target decade, it should be noted that Mayo also was a 
member of the Norfolk Bible Society in 1841 and on the correspondence committee for 
the Whig Tippecanoe Club in 1 840. 



174 

six slaves. He was a combined twelve-year member of the Humane Association, 
Seamen's Friend Society, the Norfolk Tract Union, and Vigilance Committee of the 
Democratic Party. Dey also was a leader in these associations at one time being a 
president of the Humane Association, manager of the Seamen's Friend Society, and on 
the Executive Committee of the Norfolk Tract Union. Those lower on the socio- 
economic scale also could be active in various associations. William P. Stewart, a forty- 
nine year-old merchant with only fifty dollars in real estate and one slave, was an 
association member for eleven years, being a Master Mason with the Norfolk Lodge for 
seven years and a manager for the Humane Association for four years. 

Leadership was a final measurement of general participation. 14 In the sample, 30 
percent (n=120) were classified as leaders in an association at one time from 1845 to 
1854. As found in other studies, multiple office-holding was prevalent. George L. 
Upshur, a twenty-nine year-old physician who owned $5,500 in real estate and ten slaves, 
was a very active leader in several organizations. He was a Junior and Senior Warden 
with the Norfolk Masonic Lodge in the late 1 840s and when the Atlantic Lodge was 
established in 1854 he became Most Worshipful Master of that fraternal order. 
Participating in benevolent and political causes, Upshur was a manager with the Humane 
Association and corresponding secretary for the Democratic Association. Another active 
organizational leader was Thomas D. Toy, a thirty-six year-old druggist/merchant who 
owned $3,500 in real estate and four slaves. During the decade under study, Toy was a 



14 



Leadership is defined in this study as being an officer such as president, vice president, 
secretary, treasurer, manager, trustee, solicitor, and visitor of the various voluntary 
associations, Junior and Senior Wardens and Most Worshipful Master in Masonic 
Lodges, and a ranked officer (e.g., captain, lieutenant, etc.) in militia and fire companies. 



175 

secretary for the Seamen's Friend Society, a vice president for the Norfolk Musical 
Association, and a manager for the Norfolk Tract Union, along with being a solicitor and 
visitor for the Humane Association. 

The basic associational indices described above — number, duration, and 
leadership of associations — also were analyzed in conjunction with the personal 
characteristics of sample members. The average (and median) age of the association 
sample from the 1 850 census was 39 years old. The age range extended from nineteen- 
year-old John B. Upshur, a young merchant who would become a Senior Warden with 
the Masonic Norfolk Lodge by 1853, to seventy-seven-year-old John Southgate, a well- 
established merchant and leader in the city who was president of the Norfolk Humane 
Association in 1 849. A breakdown by age cohort reveals that those in their thirties and 
forties dominated associational rosters with 37 percent and 26 percent, respectively — 
nearly two-thirds of the sample (see Table 6 for a breakdown by age cohort). 

There was little difference in the median over-thirty-nine and under-thirty-nine 
age cohorts with respect to measures of number of associations joined (single versus 
multiple) and number of years in association during the decade. In comparing leadership 
and age, perhaps surprisingly the older age category did not possess the majority of 
leadership positions. Roughly following their split in the general sample, 54 percent of 
the associational leaders were under thirty-nine years old, while 46 percent in leadership 
positions were over thirty-nine. 

Turning to nativity, Americans, and especially Virginians, comprised most of the 
association rosters. Of the 400 in the sample 87 percent (n=346) were born in the United 
States and out of this number 80 percent (n=276) were from the Old Dominion. Thus, 69 












176 

percent of the entire sample consisted of Virginians. Norfolk's associations included 
seventy migrants from the eastern seaboard from Maine to South Carolina and west to 
Kentucky, as well as fifty-four immigrants from Europe, Canada, and the West Indies. 
Immigrants joined a variety of associations in Norfolk, but by far the most popular 
association for foreign newcomers was the Democratic Party as 67 percent of the fifty- 
four were members, serving mostly on Vigilance Committees. The next largest 
organization joined was the Norfolk Masonic Lodge, which attracted 26 percent of the 
immigrants in the sample. 1 

There was a deep disparity with respect to leadership between immigrants and 
native-born Americans. Of the fifty-four immigrants in the sample only five held office in 
an association (9 percent of their number) compared with 1 15 American officers (33 
percent of their number). An even more dramatic figure is that native-born Americans 
constituted 96 percent of the leadership positions in the sample. This is not surprising 
taking into account that the Democratic Party and Norfolk Masonic Lodge were the most 
popular associations for immigrants in this sample, but difficult to rise up into leadership 
roles. Only one immigrant was an officer (a Junior Deacon) in a Masonic lodge. Most 
immigrants held ranking positions in such organizations as the Irish Repeal Association, 



" Southern border neighbor North Carolina contributed the most migrants to Norfolk 
(n=17), followed by Massachusetts (n=9) and northern neighbors Maryland (n=8) and 
Pennsylvania (n=8). Of the fifty-four immigrants in the sample Ireland (n=23) and 
Germany (n=T 1) contributed the largest single proportions. Other countries represented 
included Canada, England, France, Holland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, and the 
West Indies. See Table 7 for a division of the nativity of the association sample. 

Other organizations joined by immigrants included the Humane Society, Masonic 
lodges, fire companies, militia companies, Irish Relief and Repeal organizations, 
Mechanical Benevolent Association, Improved Order of Red Men, Seamen's Friend 
Society, Norfolk Bible Society, and Norfolk Tract Union. 



177 

Friends of Ireland, United Fire Company, Norfolk Tract Union, and Seamen's Friend 
Society. 17 

The sample association members overwhelmingly were family men with 87 
percent being married (including seven widowers) and 72 percent having children. 
Because of their large proportion of the sample, married men dominated all of the 
associational measures. For example, they accounted for 89 percent of those involved in 
multiple associations, but also 86 percent of those involved in only one association. 
Similarly, those who were married comprised 88 percent of the officeholders in the 
sample, but at the same time 86 percent of those who were not leaders also were married. 

The fathers in the sample had an average number of 2.6 children (the median 
equaled two), with a range of one to twelve offspring. More than two-thirds of these men 
(68 percent) had between one and four children (see Table 8 for a breakdown of sample 
children). Similar to the case for marriage, because such a large proportion of the sample 
members had children there was little difference within these groups along measures of 
associational activity. Three-quarters of the sample members who were involved in more 
than one association had children, but 71 percent of those in only one association also had 
children. Similarly, 74 percent of the leaders had families, while 71 percent of non- 
leaders also had families. 



Similar to their native neighbors, immigrants worked mostly in the mercantile and 
artisanal ranks. Forty-one percent of the immigrants were proprietors (especially 
merchants and grocers), while 30 percent were skilled craftsmen (especially tailors), by 
far their largest occupational categories. Immigrants adopted the slaveholding culture of 
Virginia as 61 percent owned slaves (as compared to the almost-75 percent among 
natives, to be discussed below). In terms of wealth, only 28 percent of immigrants owned 
real estate property, compared to 44 percent of native Americans (to be discussed). 






178 

Our father of twelve children was a forty-two year-old grocer from New York 
named William D. Seal. A Master Mason with the Norfolk Lodge, he did not possess 
any real estate, but did own four slaves. Henry B. Reardon, a fifty-seven year-old 
merchant also had a large family with nine children, while owning over $30,000 in real 
estate and eight slaves. Active in the public life of the city Reardon was a visitor and 
solicitor for the Norfolk Humane Association, a vice president of the Friends of Ireland, 
and a corporal with the Norfolk Light Artillery Blues. He also sat on the city council and 
Board of Health in 1 852. At the other end of the familial spectrum (among those who 
had children) was Moses P. Robertson, a twenty-eight year-old merchant with one child, 
no real estate or slaves, but who was a solicitor assigned to the first ward for the Humane 
Association. Thirty-seven year-old Joseph Kehoe was an Irish immigrant tailor in 
Norfolk also with only child. He did not own slaves or possess any real estate, but like 
many immigrants he joined the Democratic Vigilance Committee. 

In terms of wealth association members probably lived comfortably, but were not 
the richest men in the community. According to the 1 850 manuscript census 42 percent 
(n=168) owned real estate property, with the average value of such property being $7,600 
and the median being about $4,400 (see Table 9 for a breakdown of property holdings). 
Samuel T. Sawyer, the editor for the Daily Southern Argus had the lowest amount of real 
estate (of those who had property) valued at twenty-five dollars, but who also owned 
three slaves. He was a Master Mason with the Norfolk Lodge, a member of the Friends 
of Ireland, and very active in political organizations serving as secretary for the 
Democratic Association, being on the party's Vigilance Committee, and acting as vice 
president of the Common Council. Possessing the largest amount of real estate, about 



179 

$61,000 worth, was John Southgate, the seventy-seven year-old merchant who also was 
the oldest person found in the sample. An owner often slaves, Southgate served as 
president of the Norfolk Humane Society in 1849. 

Those in the sample who owned real estate were somewhat more likely to be 
members of multiple associations, while those with no real property were more likely to 
join only one association. Of those who joined more than one association, 53 percent 
were property owners. Conversely, of those who joined one association 63 percent did 
not possess real estate. The relationship between those who owned real estate and 
number of years as an association member displayed no clear patterns. The relationship 
was more visible when examining leadership, however, as property owners were more 
likely to hold positions of leadership in an association. Of those who were association 
leaders at one time or another, 52 percent were real property owners compared to 48 
percent who did not own property. Looking at it from another perspective that 
accentuates the disparity, 37 percent of property owners became leaders compared to 25 
percent of non-property owners who held associational office. 

Personal property tax assessments provided another measure of wealth of the 

I o 

sample. Seventy-seven percent of the sample did have some amount of personal 
property assessment in 1 850, but the average was only seven dollars and the median even 
lower at two dollars. The average and median can be lowered further with the 
elimination of two individuals who had by far the highest assessments in the sample. One 



1 8 

Personal property values were not collected until the 1860 manuscript census and while 
personal property tax lists include the number of possessions (slaves, horses, oxen, 
carriages, household items, jewelry, etc.), they do not include monetary figures in 1850, 
just the amount taxed. 



180 

of these was Nicholas W. Parker, a fifty-two-year-old commission merchant and 
alderman who incurred a tax assessment of $746. He owned five slaves according to the 
1 850 census and was taxed on seven slaves according the personal property records, and 
also owned $18,600 in real estate property. The next highest assessment belonged to 
Thomas F. Andrews, a fifty-three year-old physician who was assessed $107. Andrews 
owned eleven slaves (four were taxed as personal property) and $28,700 in real estate 
property. When the figures for Parker and Andrews are removed from this analysis, the 
average personal property assessment is reduced dramatically to $4.55 and the median 
drops slightly to $1.90. Of those in the sample who were assessed some amount, Thomas 
H. G. Cock, a twenty-nine-year-old caulker was assessed the lowest figure at twelve 
cents. His association participation involved working on the Vigilance Committee for the 
Democratic Party in 1847. 

There was a strong relationship between those who were assessed personal 
property taxes in 1850 and membership in more than one organization. Of those who 
were members of multiple associations (n=l 16), 88 percent were assessed some property 
tax. From another perspective, of those who were assessed a property tax, 33 percent 
were involved in multiple associations compared to only 15 percent of those with no 

10 

assessment. A strong relationship also existed for personal property tax assessment and 



They held by far the highest assessments in the sample with the next highest being 
$56.57 belonging to John Southgate, the previously-mentioned seventy-seven year-old 
merchant with $61,000 in real estate and ten slaves according to the census and three 
according to the tax assessment. 

Because of their numerical superiority in the sample, those who were assessed a 
personal property tax held the overwhelming majority for each cohort of number of years 
of associational membership. 






181 

leadership. Of those who were in leadership positions (n=120), 90 percent were assessed 
some personal property tax. Looking from a different angle, of those who incurred a 
property tax 35 percent were officers, while only 13 percent of those who did not have 
any assessment became organizational leaders. 

Slave ownership was prevalent among the association sample with almost three- 
fourths (n=292) owning a total of 1,401 slaves (see Table 10 for slaveholding statistics). 
According to the manuscript slave census and personal property tax lists for 1850 the 
average number of slaves owned was about five with a median of three, with a range of 
one to thirty-one slaves. Sixty-seven percent of slaveholders owned between one and four 
slaves, while 89 percent owned between one to eight slaves. Over half (58 percent) of the 
slaves owned by the association members were females with 63 percent being adults 
(defined as sixteen years of age or older). 22 The average age for slaves was twenty-five 
years old with an age range of one-month old infants to several slaves in their eighties. 
Slave children (fifteen and under) accounted for the largest age cohort (37 percent) of the 



Nicholas W. Parker, who had the highest assessment, was a member of the Whig Clay 
Club in 1843 and a member of the Humane Association from 1840 to 1846, with a 
leadership role as treasurer in the last three years. 

The age and gender analyses come solely from the 1850 manuscript census records. 
The personal property tax lists, which were used in addition to census records to 
determine general slave ownership by individuals, do not provide gender or specific age 
breakdowns (for the latter only providing number of "slaves above twelve" and "slaves 
above sixteen" years of age). Thus, those whose information was gathered from the 
personal property tax records are not included in this section. The result is that the age 
and gender statistics contain thirty-two fewer slaves in the analysis, which is the number 
of slaves obtained from the personal property tax lists. 



182 

total number of slaves (n=1369). 23 Analyzing these figures by age and gender, female 
adult slaves comprised the largest individual group with about 37 percent of the slaves 
owned by association members. This suggests that most slaves were used in domestic 
roles or perhaps in mercantile shops and businesses, not surprising considering the urban 
commercial environment that was Norfolk. 

Fifty individuals owned at least one slave including Nathan Angel, a fifty-seven 
year-old sailmaker from Connecticut with no real estate and small personal property 
assessment tax (twenty-five cents). Angel was a Junior Warden with the Naphtali 
Masonic Lodge in 1841 and a Master Mason with the Norfolk Lodge from 1848 to 1854. 
Thirty-seven year-old Willis J. C. Moody also owned one slave. An upholsterer with no 
real estate property he was a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows, the 
Whig Clay Club, a treasurer of the Washington Clay Club, and upon that party's demise a 
member of a Democratic Vigilance Committee. The largest slaveholders in the sample 
were John G. H. Hatton and Nathaniel Nash. Hatton was a forty-year-old teller at the 
Norfolk branch of the Farmers' Bank of Virginia who owned thirty-one slaves and also 
$10,000 in real estate property. He served as treasurer and secretary of the Norfolk 
Humane Association, manager of the Seamen's Friend Society, and was president of 
Select Council in 1852. Nash was thirty-six year-old carpenter who owned twenty-nine 
slaves and $9,000 in real estate. Although listed as a carpenter in the 1850 census, Nash 
probably had moved from skilled craftsmen to being a manufacturer/proprietor who used 
slaves in his shop. He was a solicitor with the Humane Association and Master Mason. 



The number of slaves declined as their age advanced and so following slave children 
were those from sixteen to twenty-nine (26 percent), those in their thirties (14 percent), 
forties (12 percent), fifties (7 percent), and sixty and over (4 percent). 






183 






Similar to marriage and family, slaveholders dominated the various associational 
measures. They comprised 84 percent of those belonging to multiple organizations, while 
82 percent of non-slaveholders belonged to only one association. Slaveholders also 
substantially led in each category of number of years' membership in associations with 
percentages ranging from 59 percent (two years) to 100 percent for six and eight through 
thirteen years. In terms of leadership, there were dramatic results as slaveholders 
accounted for 88 percent of all those who were association officers. 

The occupation of each person in the sample was determined using the 1850 
manuscript census and William S. Forrest's Norfolk Directory for 1851-1852. They 
were then divided into categories using a modified version of the systems used by Peter 
R. Knights in The Plain People of Boston, 1830-1860: A Study in City Growth (1971) 
and Stephan Thernstrom in The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American 
Metropolis, 1880-1970 (1973). Both historians divided occupations into categories of 
professionals, major proprietors/managers/government officials, semi-professionals, 
clerk/salesmen, petty proprietors/managers/officials, skilled craftsmen, semi-skilled 
workers, and unskilled laborers. Knights separated major and minor proprietors on the 
basis of $1,000 in real estate and personal property, while Thernstrom used a figure of 
$5,000. Thernstrom further divided his occupations into white collar and blue collar 
categories. High white-collar occupations included professionals and major 



184 

proprietors/managers/officials, while low white-collar included clerks/salesman, semi- 
professionals, and minor proprietors/managers/officials. 4 

Like that utilized by Thernstrom and Knights, wealth (in this case real estate 
property) was incorporated to determine the level of proprietorship. The dollar amount 
used to delineate major and minor proprietors was the $1 ,000 figure adopted by Knights 
in his antebellum study of Boston rather than Thernstrom's $5,000 figure employed in his 
examination of latter-nineteenth and twentieth century Bostonians. Similar to 
Thernstrom, from this combination of wealth and occupational classifications, those in 
the sample were divided into high and low white-collar and high and low blue-collar 
categories. In addition to delineating major and minor proprietors, wealth also could 
elevate an artisan from the skilled craftsmen category. In some instances artisans such as 
carpenters and blacksmiths owned substantial real estate, operated a store where they sold 
the goods they made, and advertised their wares for sale. Thus, they were more 
proprietors or small-scale manufacturers than simply skilled artisans working for 
someone else on a piecemeal basis. These individuals could further be classified as 
major or minor proprietors depending on the amount of property they possessed. 

Several occupations stood out in terms of representation in the sample. Not 
surprising in a commercial port city, the largest groups out of ninety-six different 
occupations present were merchants (n=64) and grocers (n=28). In terms of skilled 
craftsmen, carpenters (n=30), tailors (n=17), shoemakers (n=l 1), and painters (n=10) led 



24 See Peter R. Knights, The Plain People of Boston, 1830-1860: A Study in City Growth 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 149, and Stephan Thernstrom, The Other 
Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880-1970 (Cambridge, 
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1973), 290-5. 



185 

the way. Attorneys (n=16) and physicians (n=15) dominated the professional ranks, 
while seamen (not including captains) and riggers were the largest occupations present in 
the semi-skilled category. 

Because of their dominance of the overall sample, merchants held the plurality of 
those occupations involved in various associational categories. Merchants represented 1 9 
percent of the all those involved in multiple associations and 14 percent of those involved 
in only one association. Of those who were leaders in various associations, a full 25 
percent were merchants with attorneys being the next largest group at 1 1 percent. The 
large number of merchants distorts these results, however, as attorneys proportionately 
held a larger share of leadership positions. Of those in the sample who were merchants 47 
percent achieved leadership positions. In contrast 81 percent of attorneys (n=13) became 
leaders. For their part skilled artisans held few associational offices. Of the thirty 
carpenters in the sample, only three became leaders and of the eleven shoemakers in the 
sample, only one was an officer. 

Expanding the analysis to occupational categories, the largest categories were the 
mercantile proprietors who comprised 38 percent of the sample (n=151) and skilled 
artisans at 24 percent (n=96). The proprietor figures include thirty-five skilled craftsmen 
such as blacksmiths, carpenters, and jewelers who owned more than one thousand dollars 
in real estate property. These financial figures suggest that they were, in fact, 
shopkeepers who sold the various items they made such as furniture, cabinets, iron- and 
tinware, clothing, and jewelry (see Table 11 for a breakdown of occupational categories 
and descriptions of occupations in each). 



186 

Lewis Salusbury was one such artisan who elevated himself to manufacturing and 
proprietor status. Listed in the 1850 census as a furniture maker he reported $15,200 in 
real estate and owned ten slaves. But in June 1 848 the R. G. Dun credit service had 
previously described him as a merchant and commented that he had the largest store in 
Norfolk before it burned down. The following year the Dun evaluator characterized him 
as "having a good moral character" and explained that he was working with his younger 
brother John, "doing a considerable business, and that both were good men of some 
means." 25 

Indeed, the brothers operated L. Salusbury & Bro., a furniture making operation 
that advertised "splendid and rich cabinet furniture" and other "fashionable assortment of 
articles" for sale that "compared favorably with any manufactured in this country, North 
or South, and at prices lower than usual." The company proclaimed that "inducements 
shall be offered as would make it the advantage of purchasers to patronize a manufactory 
South." The brothers boasted that they employed thirty-eight men from around the 
country and Europe who constructed the latest styles and patterns using the latest 
machines invented for such purposes. Also noted in their advertisement in the 1851- 
1 852 Norfolk city directory, the company sold pianos and provided undertaking 
services. 26 Salusbury was very active in the associational life of Norfolk as a member of 
the Whig Committee, the International Order of Odd Fellows, Seamen's Friend Society, 
and Merchants' and Mechanics' Exchange. 



23 



Manuscript Census, Norfolk County, 1850; R. G. Dun credit reports, Norfolk County, 
296d, Baker Library, Harvard University. 

16 Advertisement in "City Advertiser Section" of Forrest, Norfolk Directory for 1851- 
1852, 2. 



187 

Examining the occupational categories along the several associational measures, 
proprietors (including qualified artisans) dominated both single and multiple association. 
Of those who joined a single association, 36 percent were proprietors, followed by skilled 
artisans (27 percent) and professionals (1 1 percent). Of those who were members in 
multiple associations, proprietors once again led the way with 42 percent. Despite having 
fewer representatives in the sample, professionals (n=54) comprised 21 percent of those 
who joined multiple associations compared to skilled craftsmen (n=96) at 17 percent. In 
fact professionals, mostly attorneys, joined multiple associations at a rate higher than that 
for both skilled artisans and proprietors. Forty- four percent of professionals joined more 
than one association compared to 33 percent of proprietors and 21 percent of skilled 
craftsmen. 

With respect to leadership there were some striking differences between the three 
largest occupational categories of proprietors, skilled workers, and professionals. 
Because of their sheer numbers, proprietors accounted for 41 percent of all those in the 
sample who became leaders in an association. Professionals, again with a lower sample 
number than skilled workers, comprised 22 percent of the leaders, while skilled workers 
constituted 1 5 percent of officeholders. As before professionals (attorneys) were more 
likely to be leaders. Of those who were professionals nearly half (48 percent) were 
leaders, compared to only 33 percent who were leaders among proprietors and 19 percent 
among artisans. 

Turning to the general high/low white collar and blue collar categories, high 
white-collar persons held the majority of the association memberships with 44.5 percent 



188 

(n=178) of the sample. 27 Perhaps somewhat surprising, the next highest category was 
low blue-collar with 31.5 percent (n=126) of the sample, followed by those classed as 
low white-collar comprising 21 percent (n=84) of the sample (see Table 12 displaying the 
statistics for high/low white collar and blue collar categories). 

When examining the "collared" categories along the various associational 
measures, the high white-collar category dominated the findings. This group comprised 
59 percent of those who were in multiple organizations. By far the largest of any 
category, the next highest was the low blue-collar group at 22 percent of the sample. 
With respect to leadership, those in high white-collar occupations constituted 60 percent 
of associational officeholders, followed at a distance by low white-collars (23 percent) 
and low blue-collars (18 percent). Altering our perspective, 40 percent of high white- 
collars became leaders compared to 32 percent of low white-collars and 1 7 percent of low 
blue-collars. 

What emerges from this analysis of association members in Norfolk from the 
mid-1 840s to the mid-1 850s is that like other cities during the antebellum period the 



High white-collar occupations included major proprietors (mostly merchants), 
managers (bankers and brokers), major government officials (mayors, magistrates), 
professionals (attorneys, physicians), as well as semi-professionals (dentists, 
newspapermen), clerks/salesmen, and skilled craftsmen (carpenters, blacksmiths, etc.) 
with more than $1,000 in real estate property. The low white-collar classification 
included petty proprietors (grocers), minor government officials (various inspectors, etc.), 
semi-professionals, and clerks/salesmen with less than $1,000 in real estate property. 
High blue-collar association members included skilled craftsmen with less than $1,000 in 
real estate as well as semiskilled workers with more than $1,000 in real estate property. 
Low blue-collar included semiskilled and service workers (barbers, sailors, oystermen, 
and policemen), and unskilled laborers with less than $1,000 in real estate. High- and 
low-miscellaneous categories (gentlemen, retirees, no occupation) were delineated with 
its members being divided along the $1,000 property-holding line. 



189 

benevolent, improvement, and fraternal organizations were dominated by a group chiefly 
composed of a native, married, middle-aged (in their thirties and forties) group of 
merchants, proprietors, and professionals with families, who owned slaves, and who 
possessed modest — but not extreme — wealth. Many joined more than one association 
and multiple office-holding was prevalent. Organization leaders used these institutions to 
prepare them for leadership roles in local public offices such as the Select and Common 
Councils. 

There were fewer older men of "gentlemanly" wealth joining and leading 
associations. Also not included in significant numbers were the working class, 
unmarried, young men of the city with little prospects and a dim future. 28 Those in their 
twenties who were members of associations were enterprising young men working their 
way up the socio-economic ladder holding such occupations as clerks or professionals 
just starting their careers. In contrast to northern cities, merchant-proprietors and 
professionals dominated the membership roles, with few manufacturers present. This is 
not surprising in a southern port city that focused on commerce and tried, with little 
significant effect, to develop manufacturing enterprises. These proprietors included a 
significant number of skilled artisans who owned shops. 

Slave ownership was not antithetical to associationalism or even reform 
organizations that might be tied to northern cities. In contrast to other studies immigrants 
did not dominate the ranks of the fire companies, probably because of their fewer 



-jo 

It could be argued that the lack of working class membership in associations occurred 
because there were fewer laborers than in the northeast where they often were immigrants 
or African Americans. While the city did not have many immigrants or free blacks, there 
were working class laborers toiling away in various commercial enterprises, especially 
along the docks. 



190 

numbers in the general population. Immigrants did not hold leadership positions, either, 
but they were active in the Democratic Party and Irish Repeal organizations. This may 
appear contradictory, but perhaps it reflects their desire to become integrated into their 
adopted country, but not forget their homelands. 

In contrast to other cities where there were significant differences in membership 
of some associations based on class Norfolk's benevolent, improvement, and fraternal 
associations were comprised of merchant-proprietors, professionals, and artisans of 
varying levels of wealth. As in previous studies, however, associational leaders were 
more likely to own real estate property and especially personal property. Their property 
holdings, however, were not enough to remove them from the middle class into an elite 
upper class. Those in leadership roles could be described as the upper tier of a middle 
class. The majority of the sample members possessed real estate property and personal 
property upon which they were taxed, but their financial holdings do not rise to the level 
of wealth enjoyed by planters in the South. The average and median real property levels 
fall far below $10,000, a conservative estimate for elite wealth in antebellum America. 
Thus, the relative absence of those on the socio-economic extremes as members of 
various organizations reinforces the middle-class nature of associationalism in the 
decades prior to the Civil War. 















191 



TABLE 4 
Number of Associations Joined by Sample (1845-1854) 



Number of Associations Frequency Percentage 



One 


284 


71.0% 


Two 


80 


20.0 % 


Three 


26 


6.5 % 


Four 


9 


2.3 % 


Five 


1 


.3% 



Total 400 100.0%" 



The total percentage may not add to 100 % because of rounding. 



192 

TABLE 5 
Years of Association Membership (1845-1854) 



Number of Years 


Frequency 


Percentage 


One 


131 


32.8 % 


Two 


78 


19.5 % 


Three 


69 


17.3% 


Four 


27 


6.8 % 


Five 


28 


7.0 % 


Six 


18 


4.5 % 


Seven 


26 


6.5 % 


Eight 


11 


2.8 % 


Nine 


7 


1.8% 


Ten 


2 


.5% 


Eleven 


1 


.3% 


Twelve 


1 


.3% 


Thirteen 


1 


.3% 



Total 400 100.0% 












193 

TABLE 6 
Age Cohorts of Sample 



Age Cohort Number Percentage 

Twenties 

Thirties 

Forties 

Fifties 

Sixties 

Seventies 

Total 100.0% 



72 


18.0% 


150 


37.5 % 


104 


26.0 % 


52 


13.0 % 


19 


4.8 % 


3 


.8% 



194 



TABLE 7 






Nativity of Sample 




Place of Origin 


Number 


Percentage 


Virginia 


276 


69.0 % 


Ireland 


23 


5.8 % 


North Carolina 


17 


4.3 % 


Germany 


11 


2.8 % 


Massachusetts 


9 


2.3 % 


Maryland 


8 


2.0 % 


Pennsylvania 


8 


2.0 % 


Scotland 


7 


1.8% 


Connecticut 


6 


1.5% 


England 


5 


1.3% 


New Hampshire 


5 


1.3% 


New York 


5 


1.3% 


Maine 


4 


1.0% 


District of Columbia 


3 


.8% 


Holland 


2 


.5% 


Canada 




.3% 


Delaware 




.3% 


France 




.3% 


Kentucky 




.3% 


New England 




.3% 


Portugal 




.3% 


Rhode Island 




.3% 


South Carolina 




.3% 


Spain 




.3% 


Sweden 




.3% 


West Indies 




.3% 



Total 



400 



100.0% 






195 

TABLE 8 
Number of Children of Sample Members 



Number of Children Frequency Percentage 



None 


111 


One 


51 


Two 


55 


Three 


48 


Four 


44 


Five 


35 


Six 


35 


Seven 


14 


Eight 


4 


Nine 


2 


Twelve 


1 






27.8 % 


12.8% 


13.8% 


12.0% 


11.0% 


8.8 % 


8.8 % 


3.5 % 


1.0% 


.5% 


.3% 



Total 400 100.0% 






196 

TABLE 9 
Property Holding Wealth of Sample Members 



Real Estate Property Value Number Percentage 

No property wealth 

1-$ 1,000 ' 

$1,001 -$2,000 

$2,001-$3,000 

$3,001-$4,000 

$4,001-$5,000 

$5,001-$6,000 

$6,001-$7,000 

$7,001-$8,000 

$8,001-$9,000 

$9,001 -$10,000 

$10,001-$15,000 

$15,001-$20,000 

$20,001-$30,000 

$30,001-$40,000 

$50,001-$60,000 

$60,001-$70,000 

Total 400 100% 



232 


58.0 % 


20 


5.0 % 


30 


7.5 % 


13 


3.25 % 


20 


5.0 % 


16 


4.0 % 


11 


2.75 % 


8 


2.0 % 


1 


.25 % 


8 


2.0 % 


2 


.50 % 


14 


3.5 % 


12 


3.0% 


5 


1.25% 


6 


1.5% 


1 


.25 % 


1 


.25 % 






197 

TABLE 10 
Slaveholding by Sample Members 



Number of 
Slaves Owned 



Number of 
Slaveholders 



no slaves 



1 08 non-slaveholders 



1 

2 

3 

4 

5 

6 

7 

8 

9 

10 

11 

12 

13 

14 

17 

18 

19 

20 

21 

23 

25 

26 

28 

29 

31 



50 

53 

45 

47 

18 

16 

15 

16 

3 

6 

2 

4 

3 

1 

2 

1 

2 

1 

1 

1 

1 

1 

1 

1 

1 



Total 



400 



198 



TABLE 1 1 
Occupational Categories of Sample 






Occupational Category 



Number 



Proprietor 


151 


Skilled artisan 


96 


Professional 


54 


Semi-skilled worker 


37 


Clerk/salesman 


23 


Government official 


16 


Manager 


10 


Semi-professional 


6 


Miscellaneous 


4 


Unskilled laborers 


3 



Total 



400 



Percentage 

38.0 % 
24.0 % 
14.0% 
9.0 % 
6.0 % 
4.0 % 
3.0 % 
2.0 % 
1.0% 
1.0% 



100.0 %*< 



Proprietors include merchants, grocers, manufacturers, hotel keepers, saloon owners, etc. 

and those skilled artisans who owned more than $ 1 ,000 in real estate property. 
Skilled artisans include carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, painters, blacksmiths, jewelers, 

farmers, ropemakers, sailmakers, etc. who did not possess more than $1,000 in 

real estate property. 
Professionals include physicians, attorneys, clergymen, engineers, teachers, newspaper 

publishers/editors. 
Semi-skilled workers include sailors, rigger, oystermen, barber, cook, policemen, and 

soldiers (except officers). 
Clerks and salesmen include clerks, salesmen, bank teller, agent, bill collector, 

bookkeeper, and customs house officer 
Government officials include mayor, magistrate, inspectors of various products, such as 

fruit, vegetables, staves, cotton, and tobacco. 
Managers include ship captains, harbor masters, and military officers. 
Semi-professionals include dentists, reporters. 
Miscellaneous includes gentlemen, retired, student, unknown. 



** Columns may add to more than 100% because of rounding. 



199 



TABLE 12 
High/Low White Collar and Blue Collar Categories 

Collared Classification Number Percentage 



Highwc 


178 


44.5 % 


Lowbc 


126 


31.5% 


Lowwc 


84 


21.0% 


Highbc 


8 


2.0 % 


Highmisc 


3 


.8% 


Lowmisc 


1 


.3% 



Total 400 100%** 



High white-collar occupations included major proprietors (mostly merchants), managers 
(bankers and brokers), major government officials (mayors, magistrates), professionals 
(attorneys, physicians), as well as semi-professionals (dentists, newspapermen), 
clerks/salesmen, and skilled craftsmen (carpenters, blacksmiths, etc.) with more than 
$1,000 in real estate property. 

Low blue-collar included semiskilled and service workers (barbers, sailors, oystermen, 
and policemen), and unskilled laborers with less than $1,000 in real estate. 

Low white-collar included petty proprietors (grocers), minor government officials 
(various inspectors, etc.), semi-professionals, and clerks/salesmen with less than $1,000 
in real estate property. 

High blue-collar skilled craftsmen with less than $1,000 in real estate as well as 
semiskilled workers with more than $1,000 in real estate property. 

A high- and low-miscellaneous category (gentlemen, retirees, no occupation, student) 
was delineated with its members being divided along the $1,000 property holding line. 



** 



Columns may add to more than 100% because of rounding. 






CHAPTER 7 
CONCLUSION 



From this analysis of Norfolk's associational life in the two decades prior to the 
Civil War, we can see the public activities of a middle class of merchants, proprietors, 
and professionals who shared similar values of industry, thrift, sobriety, and piety. In 
various benevolent, improvement, and fraternal societies they cultivated and strengthened 
their beliefs and subsequently sought to instill these ideals in other members of the 
community, especially the perceived idle rich and lazy poor, as well as young men 
subject to the temptations of the wickedness of the city. 

Inspired by the Second Great Awakening, the members of the middle class 
developed benevolent societies to help ameliorate the physical needs of those in distress 
in the community. Within a context of middle-class beliefs only those who were deemed 
the worthy poor — usually the widow, orphan, or infirmed in dire straits through no fault 
of their own — were provided assistance. Even then, they were not wholly trusted as aid 
was in the form of wood, food, and clothing, but seldom money that could be wasted. 
Those who were deemed lazy, intemperate, and profligate were not deemed worthy to 
receive aid. In addition to providing physical comforts those in the Humane Association 
or Dorcas Society attempted to elevate the moral and spiritual character of the worthy 
poor. By donating their time, money, and gifts society members further intensified their 
middle-class beliefs by improving themselves as they served the will of God. 






200 



201 

The middle class also organized improvement associations that exemplified and 
promoted their values in antebellum Norfolk. The Total Abstinence Society and Sons of 
Temperance tried, but ultimately failed, to reduce alcohol consumption, believed to be a 
cause of many of society's ills, by moral suasion and legislative prohibition. In addition, 
a succession of library, literary, and musical organizations sought to elevate the cultural 
and literary life of Norfolk. Lastly, institutions such as the Young Men's Christian 
Association and Seamen's Friend Society worked to keep young males away from the 
wicked temptations of the city and improve their intellectual and moral character. 

In fraternal organizations such as the Masons and Odd Fellows members 
cultivated a brotherly sense of camaraderie that spread across city, state, and regional 
lines. Despite being formed for the protection of the public or to elect candidates, militia 
and fire companies and political parties and clubs evolved into fraternal bodies. These 
associations further reinforced middle-class values and the limitations for inclusion 
allowed for peer approval, socialization of newcomers, and definition of who was a part 
the middle class. Leadership skills cultivated in association assisted many in becoming 
civic and business leaders. Fraternal organizations further played a large role in the 
public life of the community by their participation in parades, galas, and various 
anniversary celebrations. Political associations served as a means by which many in the 
community could become active in the political (and public) life of Norfolk beyond 
simply voting (if they could vote at all) through their work on Vigilance Committees, at 
barbecues and parties, and at meetings and rallies. 

Association members were primarily native merchants, proprietors, and 
professionals in their thirties and forties, who were married with families and who owned 



202 

slaves, but were not the richest men in town. A number of the proprietors were skilled 
craftsmen who operated their own shops to sell the goods they made. Their occupations 
and real estate and personal property holdings placed association members in the middle 
of the socio-economic spectrum. They possessed real and personal property, which put 
them ahead of many in the working class, but in general they did not own so much so as 
to rise to level of planter elites or "gentlemen." Multiple association membership and 
office-holding were prevalent. Ownership of slaves was not contrary to associational life, 
even though many societies had their start in the abolitionist Northeast. Young men, the 
working class, the elite, and the poor were present in fewer numbers in Norfolk's 
organizations. 

This examination of associational membership and leadership supports the 
hypothesis of a multi-layered middle class. Those in leadership roles possessed more real 
estate and personal property than the rest of the organizations' membership rosters. They 
also held higher level mercantile, proprietor, and professional occupations and thus could 
be termed the upper end of the middle-class spectrum. In contrast, those who were the 
rank and file members, comprising the bulk of the middle class and association 
membership, held less property and lower occupational levels even though they were of a 
similar non-manual labor type, such as merchants and proprietors on a smaller scale, 
white-collar clerks, or artisans who owned their own shops. 

Organizational leaders were the mercantile elites that have been described in the 
historiography who perhaps possessed wealth approaching the patrician planter 
aristocracy, but who possessed different values and occupations, who promoted ideas 
such a civic boosterism, and who were wresting political, economic, and social power 



203 

away from the old guard. As their leadership in associations demonstrates, the middle- 
class elites did not travel in entirely contrasting orbits from the rest of the middle class, 
but simply different levels. Moreover, most worked their way up the socio-economic 
ladder from the lower echelons of the middle class or perhaps even the artisanal working 
class (what could be theorized to be the highest level of the working class). For their part 
the lower- and mid-level middle classes occupied an economic niche below the upper- 
middle class, but worked in similar occupations, believed in the same values, joined the 
same associations (serving as rank and file members, but certainly with hopes of moving 
up), and supported the mercantile elite's boosterism efforts at commercial, industrial, and 
urban growth. 

The wives and sisters of these association members established their own 
benevolent societies and also participated in the functions of other organizations, such as 
assisting the militia and fire companies by organizing fairs to raise money, by making 
decorative banners and flags, and by making garments and food. In a letter to a friend 
living in Charlotte County, Mary McPhail Smith wrote that she did not correspond more 
often because she was involved in too many activities. She commented that in addition to 
domestic chores, she attended the Education Society meeting on Mondays, a Bible class 
on Tuesdays, the Dorcas Society on Wednesdays, and prepared for her Sabbath School 
class on Saturdays. Still, she admitted that although she had little free time, "I know that 
I daily spend too much in idle thoughts which should be better employed. I often feel 
unhappy to think how many thoughts are given to the world and how few to God." 1 



See letter from Mary (McPhail) Smith of Norfolk to Mary Venable Carrington in 
Roanoke Bridge, Charlotte Court House dated January 30, 1832; Carrington Family 
Papers, Section 26, doc. 55, Virginia Historical Society. 






204 

The middle-class associationalism of Norfolk not only bound together like- 
minded individuals within the city, but also connected them with those in other societies 
around the state and country. Militia companies from the city traveled to, and hosted, 
units from other cities across the state in maneuvers, parades, and banquets that provided 
a sense of fraternity among the men that most surely assisted them during the Civil War. 
Organizations like the Masons, Odd Fellows, YMCA, Seamen's Friend Society, and Sons 
of Temperance were national in scope and branches from around country contacted each 
other, exchanged literature and information, and forged their own brotherly spirit that 
would only be broken, but temporarily, by the Civil War. 

Boosterism was an essential ingredient to life in middle-class associations in 
Norfolk. One of the hallmarks of middle-class values was improvement and civic 
boosters sought to improve the city with various projects such as railroads, canals, street 
paving, new municipal buildings, and public gas works. Booster ideals of civic 
improvement also were felt in the other associations as well. Norfolk's urban promoters, 
like many in the country, believed that crime, vice, and poverty reflected poorly on a city 
and thus if benevolent and temperance organizations could elevate the worthy poor (the 
unworthy poor would find their way to prisons and asylums soon enough) and reform the 
intemperate, if the YMCA and Seamen's Friend Society could protect the young men, 
and if the literary and cultural institutions could be sustained then these improvements 
would reflect positively on Norfolk, raising the status of the city and drawing people and 
business there. Moreover, if these same associations could improve the individual by 
elevating their industry, sobriety, thriftiness, and piety then that would not only help the 



205 

individual, but also help enhance the welfare and growth of Norfolk by making them a 
productive member of the community. 

Beyond what was cultivated in association, preliminary investigations reveal that 
middle-class values of industry, thrift, sobriety, and piety were present in other ways as 
well in antebellum Norfolk. Local newspapers continually reprinted feature articles, 
literary short stories, poems, and various advice columns outlining these beliefs through 
material first published in northern books, pamphlets, and newspapers. One typical article 
had the title of "Get Married" and was taken from the Norwich Aurora in 1840. Fairly 
lengthy, it stressed that getting married was good for a woman, good for a man, and good 
for society. "Man never becomes a member of society until he is married. Unmarried, he 
is looked upon with distrust. He has no home, no abiding place, no anchor to hold 
him. . . . If you are desirous of wealth, get married, for a good wife promotes habits of 
industry and economy." 

Similarly, the Southern Argus printed an article entitled "Good Advice to 
Apprentices" that advised young men to "stock your mind with useful information" 
during apprenticeships, "be industrious in your business, be frugal, be economical." 3 
Even in his city directory for 1851-1852 William S. Forrest included short essays on how 
to be a good husband, wife, and parent; directions on the proper methods for walking, 
cutting a rose, or saving a drowning victim; the necessity of education for the young; 









2 

American Beacon, 30 May 1840. 



Daily Southern Argus, 30 May 1856. 






206 

advice on how be a better merchant or mechanic; and rules for living a good, successful 
life, accentuating perseverance. 

Newspaper editorials and advertisements for various publications, again mostly 
coming from the Northeast, highlighted middle-class values or acted as guides to develop 
these values and proper behaviors. An editorial in the Southern Argus wrote glowingly 
about the latest issue of Godey 's Lady 's Book, noting that its literary writings were 
notable not only "for the purity and beauty of their style, but are really valuable on 
account of the moral lessons which they convey. ... we observe by the last number, that 
it has even found its way into the golden regions of California. As a parlor journal it is 
invaluable." 5 One typical advertisement from bookseller J. Vickery noted that he had 
available for twenty-five cents Mrs. Ellis 's House Keeping Made Easy containing 
"complete instructions in all branches of cookery and domestic economy, containing the 
modern and improved receipts of daily service in all families." 6 Throughout the 
antebellum period a multitude of improvement manuals, self-help guides, and etiquette 
publications were published by northeastern presses and sold in Norfolk including 
encyclopedia sets, housekeeping and cooking guides, children's books, and commercial 
reviews. 7 



4 Forrest, The Norfolk Directory, For 1851-1852, 122-30. 

Daily Southern Argus, 24 January 1 850. 

American Beacon, 27 May 1845. 

The numerous improvement publications included titles such as The Family Instructor, 
or Manual of the Duties of Domestic Life, The Christian Guide to Heaven, or A Manual 
of Spiritual Exercises for Catholics {American Beacon, 15 February 1844); Penny 
Cyclopedia from the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge {Beacon, 5 April 
1 844); Graham 's Magazine, Union Magazine, Ladies ' National Magazine {Argus, 3 1 



207 

Preliminary research also demonstrates that middle-class values were highly 
desirable in Norfolk's financial circles as well. In 1849 a local R. G. Dun credit rater said 
of thirty-three year-old jeweler G. Mayer that he was "good for small amounts, clever 
fellow and good business." The following year he was described as having limited 
means and no real estate, but possessing of "good moral character and sober habits . . . 
estimable man and worthy of all confidence." William H. Broughton, a druggist, who 
received excellent credit reports for the antebellum period, was characterized by an agent 
for the firm in 1 848 as a "good, young, married man" with a "fine business." The writer 
also reported that Broughton' s father-in-law described him as possessing "good 
character," "attentive to business," with "high moral standing." In sharp contrast that 
same year a Dun reporter described Francis Butt, a milliner, as a "cypher," but his wife 
was characterized as a "smart business women." In 1852 another agent described the 
situation in much the same terms as Butt was "a man of straw, lounges about the store 
and loafs about the streets. Calls his own what was made by his wife, but stands in his 
name. Mrs. is a smart deserving woman, married 20 years. They have a son a pretender 
to medical study. But pretty much a loafer, never made a $, or never will by industry." 8 



October 1 848); Hunt 's Merchant 's Magazine, Knickerbocker Magazine, Metropolitan 
Magazine, (Argus, 2 March 1849); DeBow's Commercial Review (Argus, 28 March 
1850); The Young American Library that included biographies of historical figures such 
as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, and Andrew Jackson (Argus, 
12 October 1852); and Arthur 's Juvenile Library, a collection that included such stories 
as "Haven't Time and Don't Be in a Hurry," "Who are the Happiest," "The Last Penny," 
and "The Lost Children" (Argus, 7 November 1 853); and the Southern Literary 
Messenger, one of the few magazines published in the South (Argus, 23 December 1849). 

R. G. Dun credit rating book, Norfolk County, vol. 31, 73, 75, 295; Baker Library, 
Harvard University. 



208 

Thirty- year-old tinner George L. Crow was described in 1850 as being an 
apprentice two years prior, but now "in business 1 8 months, poor but strictly honest, 
industrious, and trustworthy, will be rich if he lives. Considered perfectly safe for what 
he offers to buy." In 1857 Irishman Thomas Patton was described as "a small trader, 
keeps a rum mill and takes too much of it himself. Don't pay, would not advise credit." 
Ten years later, however, he is characterized as being "worth 5m, industrious and 
attentive to business, and thought good for small bills." W. J. Reynolds, manager of a 
local hotel was described in 1854 by a Dun agent, "know him well. I have seen him on 
several frolicking expeditions . . . and have always regarded him as a trifling fellow, 
boisterous and talks loudly. Don't know his means, but think they are limited. He is not 
the man to add to what he has. He has a great many friends, and is popular among a 
certain class." 9 

Good character often made up for few assets as in the case of Thomas F. Owens, a 
grocer. In 1851 he was described as "a young man commenced without means, good 
habits, fine, honest, member of Methodist Church, considered safe relying entirely upon 
his character." The next year he was again characterized as "a very industrious, young 
man, deserving of credit on account of his habits." On the other hand possessing a 
successful business, but poor behaviors could hurt an entrepreneur's credit rating. 
Thomas J. D. Reilly and John C. Ehrbeck were tobacconists who had some level of 
credit, but whose actions influenced their rating. In January 1 854 they were described as 
having "nothing unfavorable to their credit, Reilly and Ehrbeck both too fond of drink. 
Would advise caution." In a May 1 854 follow-up report, the credit agent wrote that he 



9 ibid., 89, 129, 135. 



209 

"would give advice of caution [Reilly] has some means, the extent not exactly known, 
may be worth 25m as supposed. E. has but little means if any, but both R & E are 
drunkards [emphasis rater] and I would advise caution in dealing with men of such 
habits. Things may go well with such men, but the chances are against them. Advice of 
Caution given more in reference to their habits than means." By 1858 Reilly was in 
business for himself and the Dun creditor reported that "Have examined into his affairs, 
and assured of the opinion the debt is good and the money can be made. He has some 5m 
worth of property here, though do not consider him reliable to sell to, as he is fond of 
sport and neglects his business, and is gradually wasting his means." This assessment 
was correct in that later he was sued for debts and by July 1858 he "failed and sold out 
under deed of assignment." 10 

Perhaps the grandest form of the middle-class ideology of improvement was that 
of a community bettering itself. As has been demonstrated in this study various 
associations promoted civic boosterism either explicitly through commercial 
organizations and commercial conventions or implicitly through the elevation of the 
individual and, by consequence, the society. Urban boosterism not only was promoted in 
association, but also through local histories, city directories, and newspaper articles. In 
1853 William S. Forrest published his Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and 
Vicinity that provided a history of the city along with current descriptions of people, 
commerce, and public institutions to highlight the commercial potential of Norfolk. Two 
years earlier he had published a city directory in which he stressed the improvement 
philosophy that exemplified the booster rhetoric of the time. Forrest wrote that he was 



10 ibid., 98, 120. 



210 

providing a public service in publishing the directory, insisting that the necessity and 
utility of such a reference work for a growing city like Norfolk would be generally 
acknowledged, especially by well-informed citizens. The only exceptions, he argued, 
were those who opposed all attempts at improving the city. Forrest insisted, however, 
that "for the best interests of the city, the number of this description of its inhabitants is 
decreasing, and she moves steadily on against the contrary winds of prejudice and the 
retarded current of opposing influences. Anti-progressive principles ... are now less 
regarded than ever before." 11 

The city's newspaper editors published numerous editorials, articles, and letters 
related to internal and civic improvements. They exemplified the boosterism ethos of the 
antebellum period, serving to promote the advancement of the city and advertise its 
untapped potential to the rest of the country and even the world. The newspapers 
reported on commercial conventions in Virginia and around the country, annually wrote 
about (and observed with great excitement) the improvements the city underwent (e.g., 
new buildings), noted when new items arrived at the local stores, promoted the 
development of internal improvements such as railroads, called for direct trade to Europe, 
and compared Norfolk with other cities, North and South. Not surprisingly, the 
boosterism rhetoric would increase during the 1850s as sectional disparities in commerce 
and the colonial trade dependence on the Northeast expanded. 12 



11 Forrest, Norfolk Directory, For 1851-1852, 2. Other antebellum city directories 
included Ferslew, Victory's Directory for the City of Norfolk. . . 1859; Coffield, Second 
Annual Directory for the City of Norfolk . . . 1860. 

For several examples of newspaper boosterism among many see the American Beacon, 
9 January 1840, 24 February 1843, 13 February 1846; Daily Southern Argus, 15 February 
1848, 19 August 1853, 4 May 1854, 14 June 1855, 25 February 1856. 



211 






This research presents a number of conclusions. The presence of a middle class 
of merchants, proprietors, and professionals in a southern, commercial town like Norfolk 
demonstrates that an industrial environment was not a necessary ingredient for the 
development of a middle class. This group was present in Norfolk without the separation 
of manual laborers from management asserted by scholars studying the emergence of a 
middle class in northeastern cities. The question then can be asked, how did Norfolk's 
characteristics of commercial economic foundation, a lack of capital, and especially 
slavery — found in most southern cities and towns — influence the emergence and 
functionality of the middle-class associationalism? As John W. Quist found in his study 
of Tuscaloosa the existence of slavery did not alter the development of associations like 
temperance societies because there may have been some connection to the Northeast and 
abolitionism. Perhaps one effect could be the instability of institutions devoted to 
culture, literature, and the arts that could not be maintained for extended periods of time. 
It should be stressed, however, that although specific libraries, lyceums, etc. did not 
endure, there was always another one to take its place. Thus, the goals, attitudes, and 
values were indeed present in Norfolk's antebellum urban environment. 

This study also illustrates that the middle class in the South did not emerge in the 
post-Civil War New South era. While the New South of middle-class businessmen with 
their shared values and lifestyles, along with their aggressive commerce and boosterism, 
may have reached its zenith during the latter-nineteenth century each of its characteristics 
was present in the Old South. Thus, we can also suggest that the New South was not so 
new after all. 



212 

While differences exist between northern and southern cities, as there would be 
for any comparison between two cities, this research suggests that the two regions were 
not worlds apart. John W. Quist also highlighted this point in his comparison of 
Tuscaloosa and Washtenaw, demonstrating the associational similarities the two regions 
shared. Contemporaries also commented on similarities between southern businessmen 
and their counterparts in the North. On a visit to Norfolk two northern booksellers 
commented that "there are many professional men in the South, at least as far as we have 
been. . . . there is a good deal of the Yankee among many, when necessity pushes them. 
If one thing don't succeed, they try another." 13 

Examinations of issues relating to southern class can serve as a bridge to connect 
the historiographical divide that separates northern and southern studies. Because of its 
agrarian economy, the presence of slavery, the perceived planter hegemony, and the 
dearth of statistically-large urban areas, the antebellum South has been viewed as 
inherently and irrevocably lacking a coherent urban environment and, consequently, a 
multi-level class structure. It is no small irony that just as the major differences of the 
nineteenth century were sectional, this historiographical divergence also occurs along a 
North-South geographical divide. Thus, as Darrett B. Rutman cogently explained, the 



In much less flattering tones they also observed that the "the poor cry out, but are not 
heard." Some subscribers, they wrote, order "for what he does not desire, to go with the 
popular rush; and when the subscription is due, aims to evade its payment." Others, they 
bitterly characterized as a "light-hearted, rosy-cheeked, and baby-faced merchant, who 
dresses his ninny wife in satins, sends the pay for his book, with a word that he must have 
it twenty-five cents cheaper than the usual price." The booksellers were two women 
from the North, traveling through the South selling their publications. They were in 
Norfolk for a couple of months during the summer of 1854. See Misses Mendell and 
Hosmer, Notes of Travel and Life, By Two Young Ladies— Misses Mendell and Hosmer 
(New York: n.p., 1854), 254. 



213 

South has not only been perceived as being "different" from the North, but ultimately "a 
world apart." Incredulously, Rutman correctly asked how we could know that the South 
was that different if it has been studied in isolation and that all questions have not been 
asked. 14 

Future works concerning the South can remedy this state of affairs. These studies 
could expand upon the issues of class formation in the region looking at issues of 
consumer behaviors, living spaces, public spending, and delineation of values of the 
elites, middle class, and working class. Expanded studies on class are needed to 
eliminate the perception that the South was strictly a bipolar society consisting solely of 
poor whites and a planter aristocracy. Studies also could examine how classes and their 
public and private institutions competed for the "public sphere" to extend Mary P. Ryan's 
study beyond New Orleans to the rest of the region. Also, similar to what Timothy 
Mahoney did for the Midwest class, institutional, and general urban development in the 
South should be examined within hinterland, regional, and national contexts. While 
communication and transportation lagged in the South, can we simply assume, as has 
been the case, that southern towns and cities existed in a vacuum, isolated from each 
other and only connected to the Northeast? Also, understanding how southern cities fit 
into the web of urban competition is important because, as Mahoney explains, this 
process has been a part of the larger evolution of American nineteenth-century 
urbanization. Lastly, by understanding southern cities in various regional contexts, and 



For more discussion concerning the disparity between what is examined in northern 
and southern urban studies see Rutman's Small Worlds, Large Questions: Explorations in 
Early American Social History, 1600-1850 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 
1994). See also, Darrett B. and Anita V. Rutman, A Place in Time, Middlesex County, 
Virginia, 1650-1750 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1984). 



214 

not just simply as one Solid South, economic, social, and political differentiation among 
towns and cities can be delineated. 

Expanded research in southern class and urbanization will result in more 
similarities than differences when the North and South are compared. More extensive 
southern research studies will provide a better understanding of the people, class 
alignments, institutions, and the urban environments, with the result being a dilution of 
regional differences and an integration of southern literature into the larger class and 
urban historiography. 



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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 

The author was born in Richmond, Virginia, in October 1965. He earned a 
Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of Richmond in 1988. He 
was awarded a Master of Arts degree in psychology in May 1990 from the College of 
William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. From September 1990 to May 1995 the 
author worked as a Planner for the Virginia Department of Youth and Family Services. 
In 1 995 he left state service to complete a graduate degree in history and received a 
Master of Arts degree from the University of Richmond in May 1996. The following 
autumn he entered the doctoral program of the Department of History at the University of 
Florida, Gainesville. From June 2000 to the present the author has worked as an assistant 
editor for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, a multi-volume reference work being 
published by the Library of Virginia. 



226 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 



Bertram Wyatt-6!rown, Chair 
Richard J. Milbauer Professor 
of History 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 




Jeffrey S. Adler 
Professor of History 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 




R. Hunt Davis, Jr. 
Professor of History 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 



^s&k^ WD- ^/^"tfut^ 




1 ^ 4/ft 



ohn H. Moore 

rofessor of Anthropology 



I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 



W. Fitzhugh Brundage 
William B. Umstead 
Professor of History 
University of North Carolina, 
Chapel Hill 



This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department of 
History in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was 
accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

December 2003 



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